Thursday, September 22, 2011

Party gifts

One thing about having my own birthday during school holidays was that I never got to celebrate my birthday with my classmates. Having said that, I don't think very many people celebrated their birthdays in school then. Perhaps a smattering and I cannot recall or perhaps because I was in a neighbourhood school where my classmates included children of the Gurkha soldiers in Singapore, the socio-economic strata didn't allow for such extravagances, there really weren't all that many. Whatever it was, birthdays in school were rare and goodie bags were non-existent.

The problem is that this isn't the case today. Practically every week, the twins will come home from school announcing that it was 'so and so' s birthday and they got a present. Most of the time, the goodie bags are filled with little snacks or stationary, which I run through with such a fine tooth comb our Board of Censors could hire me. Sometimes however, they get really big gifts that stun me. Once there was a hooded towel with a cartoon character on it. That I know cost at least $20 because I contemplated buying it and then put it back because I don't even pay $20 for my own towels. Another stunner was a colour pencil/crayon/ magic marker/ water colour palette set. This came neatly wrapped in Toys R Us paper.

These gifts bug me. In fact, the whole concept of the goodie bag bugs me. It has taught the twins that at anyone's birthday, they have a right to expect that they too will walk away with a gift. What has happened with birthdays being meant for the one who was born that day and everyone trying to make it special for that one person? Is it some sense of misguided generosity that causes parents to feel that their child's responsibility on his birthday is to make others around him feel special? That doesn't sound like a bad idea, the beginning seeds of compassion and service but at the same time, there are other ways of sowing those seeds. And it has brought home a lot of plasticky toys that the twins chuck aside and forget about after rifling through the bags. I try not to throw them away because I am always mindful that I am throwing away plastic which does not degrade and when burnt, releases toxins into the air. But that means that my house is increasingly cluttered.

And it is a source of conflict. Because the twins are in separate classes, they come home with goodie bags just for themselves. That causes a lot of indignance and possessiveness which leads to a lot of fighting.

I could live without all that.

But it is so ingrained in them. I try not to perpetuate it. But when their birthdays came round this year, they insisted and expected that I would distribute goodie bags to their friends and to also bring cake into their classes. And I cannot be cruel and deny them that celebration. I try my best to water it down. I make sure the cakes are home made and that the goodie bags contain food that I would feed them. That way, I can tell myself that I am just providing the twins' classmates a healthy-ish tea snack.

But when these big whammer gifts are brought home, I feel very stressed because I can neither afford such gifts for my children's classmates nor do I want to indulge them in this way. I don't really want to play the game. I don't want to keep up with the Jonses or the Lims/ Tans/ Lees of my children's nursery class. I'm not the only mom who feels this way but we are all middle-income cowards. We dare not buck the trend. We dare not risk ostracizing our children. But we sure as heck know enough to feel guilty about it.

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