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Confessions of a Birthday Bag Hater

Local parent not a fan of goodie bag tradition.

Emily Schuller is a stay-at-home mother of two boys in Needham. She is a dedicated volunteer for Parent Talk and is Room Mother for Mrs. Denby's first grade class at the .

I love a birthday.

I love my birthday. I love my friend’s birthdays. I probably love your birthday. This week, I loved my youngest child’s fourth birthday. With gleeful anticipation, we picked out his cake, invited his little friends and set out to make merry and mark the occasion with screeching, screaming, cake-eating fun. And, I loved it. But I have a confession.  Don’t look so excited. This is not a jaw-dropping, gossip-inducing, “I wear pajamas to Roche Bros.” kind of moment. But it is my dirty little birthday secret. It is the tiny dark shadow that haunts my otherwise Happy Birthday glow. 

I hate birthday bags.

I hate buying birthday bags. I hate assembling birthday bags. I hate taking home other people’s birthday bags. I hate that my kids expect birthday bags. I hate the birthday business for perpetuating this big bag of birthday ridiculousness. There, I said it.

I have a friend who swears that birthday cake brings out the worst in children. She has pointed out to me that the words “cake time” have barely passed your lips before sweaty, sticky children are thundering toward you, scuffling over seats and shouting out tearful demands for specific cake flavors and slice sizes. I don’t disagree. But in my mind, dessert is a serious situation and a person can come by their desperation honestly. I understand that. After all, I love birthday cake. What I don’t love is the birthday bag.

Am I the only parent who, upon helping a wee one wiggle into their shoes, has been confronted with worried eyes and the whispered or, god forbid, wailed question “Where is my birthday bag”? Could it be that only members of my little tribe have ripped open their bag and sighed in disappointment and once, even asked to return it? Have I inadvertently tapped into my inner Grinch or are there others out there who think that a good time and a slice of cake should be enough? 

Each year, as I set about tackling all of the small details that add up to make the great occasion, I face the same problem. How do you put together a happy little thank you bag which does not break the budget, doesn’t look cheap, won’t rot teeth or otherwise annoy or offend a group of parents whose children you hope to have over for a play date on another occasion? This is not an easy task. In fact, this year, I did the unthinkable. I put in Whoopee cushions. I heard a few comments from the adult peanut gallery but the children were giggling and I have only received one request for a replacement. Success? Who cares?

So there you have it and now you know it. I am a self-confessed birthday bag hater. If I thought that I could end this silly tradition, I would be the first to try it. But I can’t. So don’t worry, you can send your little ones to a party at my house and rest easy in the knowledge that I won’t break their birthday bag-loving hearts. They will leave with enough chokable, teeth-rotting, made in China, two-seconds-until-they-are-lost-in-your-couch items to fill their crinkly little bag and litter your back seat. I will have emergency bags for siblings and extras for the sweet shrieking angels who wanted a blue yo-yo and not a green one. But I won’t love it. I don’t love it. And twice a year, I wonder who does.

harmonywho July 13, 2011 at 04:03 PM
Join me in rejecting the commercialism and consumption of kids' bday parties. We just held our twins' parties and had a "No Gift" request, and instead asked for Needham Community Council pantry donations. I feel the tug of the goodie bag, and try to not get cheap chinese junk. Kids EXPCT them tho, and one feels the arms-race pressure of not marginalizing your kid by being the one party where they don't get swag. It's insane.
Jodi Rooney July 13, 2011 at 10:39 PM
I go for the gift that keeps on giving (until it dies). Peet pots with dirt and seeds for the kids. I provide full instructions and pick something that is very easy to grow - peas. I typically grow the seedlings for the kids (and parents). This year they were old enough to do it themselves. So what I did was place a styrofoam ball in the peet pot (I know, not environmentally friendly) and stuck some Dum Dum lollipops to simulate the plant. Then I placed the seeds and dirt in the gift bag. I completely agree that I can't stand the junk that the kids get and break as soon as they touch it. Overall, I could not give up the gift bag - I look forward to making something that will bring the kids joy.
Sarah Mesnik July 14, 2011 at 11:02 AM
I totally agree about the birthday bag! I can't stand all of the junk that comes into the house from them! For years, I have been giving books for the kids to take home -it's fun for my children to pick out, and the guest leaves with a really nice take home gift - and it probably costs about the same in the end!
Hilary Rosenbaum July 14, 2011 at 11:44 AM
I never understood the goodie/birthday bag thing. When I was young, One attended a birthday party, had fun and went home. So, when my kids were young and I felt the peer pressure to go along with this goodie bag, I tried to give something other than candy. I found that Christmas Tree shops, Walmart, etc usually sold what I was looking for.
harmonywho July 15, 2011 at 02:34 PM
Hi Sarah! Hilary: exactly; I told my 8 year olds that "When I was a kid" (groan) "the THEME to the birthday party was: "BIRTHDAY" and we didn't get no stinkin' goodie bags!". my son refuses to believe me.

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