27 May 2012

Return(ing) gifts

Birthday parties were simpler when I was a kid. One simply took a little present (something hand made , most of the the time), gave it to the birthday baby, ate a little cake and chips, and then just went home.

Kids' parties now are way more complicated. There's a guest list, fancy invitations, decorations, themes, a menu, games to plan, and last but not the least, return gifts.

Return gifts.... A paradox.... I could go all out for a party.. A spectacular cake, a lipsmacking menu, themed decor and accessories, games that rock.. But if the 'return gift' isn't up to par, I might well have committed the greatest social faux pas. Gone are the days when keeping up with the Joneses meant a gigantic cake and a gourmet dinner at a fancy restaurant. This is the day when one ensures that the return gift is totally beyond compare and remains the talk of town way after the birthday baby has forgotten what flavour of cake was served on D-day.

A couple of years ago, I tried to get creative and hired a potter. The idea was that the kids take turns at the potter's wheel and try their hand at moulding clay. The kids could all take as many turns as they wished. And they got to take their creations home. At the end of the party, one little kid came up say thank you and bye. And asked very nicely, "May I have my return gift please?"

"well, kid, those pots you made are all yours. You can take them home with you."

"I'll do that, thanks, but where's my return gift?"

Huh? Did I misspeak?? Wasn't I communicating coherently?

"Those ARE your return gifts"

That little tyke stomped off in a huff, telling all and sundry that I hadn't got 'proper' return gifts.

My first step towards social hara-kiri.

The next time I had to host a birthday party for one of my daughters, I gave the invitees a notebook and some stationery... pencils, erasers, sharpener and crayons. The mothers of the little invitees all called to compliment me on such sensible and practical return gifts.

But, do I ever learn?? Of course not! A few months down the road, when the next kid had her birthday, I tried to repeat a successful formula. Only to be told by one little tyke, "But didn't you give us the same return gifts last time?", who was then dragged away by his totally embarassed mother.

Recently, one kid in our neighbourhood had a birthday, and all kids who attended got a potted plant. Not a bad idea, if I say so myself. Let the kids remember to water it regularly, take care of it, watch it grow and bloom.

But then I didn't factor in something important. Keeping up with the Joneses.

Today, my kids attended not one but two birthday parties. The sensible mom gave them some really nice DIY craft kits.

And the other.... Shudder... Gave each kid a bowl... With two goldfish in each...


I don't want fish at home. But here I am, stuck with 4 critters....

No one we knew, who had fish as pets, wanted to take these off our hands. I didn't know the hostess well enough to take them back to her without making a mountain of a molehill. By this time, there were enough tears to fill up a dam. And of course, daddy dearest can't bear to see his babies cry. He simply HAD to be their hero.

The kids are now proud owners of goldfish. They needed a new and bigger tank. And fish food. And a billion other accessories. We also had logistical issues of transporting fish in open bowls of water back home without splashing water, or fish, out.

After a lot of arguements, we went out and got a fish tank, fish food and other assorted accessories.

And I now own 4 scrawny goldfish.

Lucky me.... Not!

What do I give that kid in return when it's my turn to host my daughters birthday party a few months down the line?

A pirhana for her fist tank? A puppy dog? A hamster? Or better still, a loud talking parrot? What about a violin?? (A note for the uninitiated: listening to a novice, or an untrained person play a violin would be the worst kind of torture... On par with the sound generated by stepping on a cat. Or Nails scraping across a blackboard.)

Ah well. Time to feed some fishy characters. And damn you, whoever invented the concept of "return gifts".

One cannot simply feed and water a few kids before sending them back home anymore. They're to be 'returned' with thanks....