“No presents but your presence.”
These were wonderfully poetic words I found at the bottom of one of the first birthday invites I received as a new mom. What a relief, I told myself. How environmentally conscious and lovely.
I made it to the party empty handed — only to be greeted by a table full of gifts. I realized I had missed some unwritten societal memo.
This started a long tradition of me feeling like I’m doing everything wrong when it comes to gift giving. There are so many unspoken rules and ways to decode invitations. What should my budget be? Are dinosaurs cool or lame? How do I know which unicorn goods a kid already has? Are books taboo? How do I decipher the instructions in these invites?
In case you think I’m judging others for this, please know that I have the exact same problem when it comes to my own kids’ celebrations.
This month, my sons both had their birthday parties, two weeks apart (I’m still recovering.) I spent weeks preparing for each, watching CakeTok videos, searching for snack platters based on their favorite characters and designing invitations. In my younger son’s invitation I wrote, “Presents are welcome but we care more about your presence.” How stupidly stupid? What does that even mean?!
What I really wanted to write was: My son has second child syndrome and never really gets new things for himself so a present would be nice, but it could be a book or, like, a small toy — or honestly a tissue box filled with candy is totally fine because, like every family, we’re already drowning in toys. But honestly if you’re on your way over and rushing to get a gift please just don’t worry about it because we don’t really need or want gifts.
Unfortunately, the invite platform I used had word limits.
But maybe I should’ve spelled it all out? Would it have been helpful, or just more confusing? Am I overthinking it all?
For my older son, I just didn’t write anything. He is five. He wants gifts all the friggin’ time. He cries when we buy someone else a gift and he doesn’t get one (we’re working on it!) And to be fair, how can I blame him? I love it when someone gets me a little special something. I still love unwrapping gifts.
Recently, we started getting invitations where parents urged attendees to donate to a worthwhile cause instead of giving a gift. Genius! Why didn’t I think of that? I happily gave a chai or two to these miracle-working organizations.
And then I also bought a gift. Just in case.
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