Saturday, May 23, 2009

Birthday gifting (a new verb)

My little "bonus baby" is turning 6 very soon. People say to me (since it was quite the occasion that I was ever pregnant again in the first place) "He's 6 -hasn't time flown?" but no, it hasn't really. Going through childbirth, night-time feedings, potty-training and tantrums is challenging at the best of times, but when you're ten years older than you were first time around, and several years older than you ever wanted to be with a newborn, well... . But he's a star (or will be before he's 20 at this rate) and we wouldn't be without him.

Anyway - what would my blog be without the occasional rant eh?

So his upcoming birthday got me thinking about gift-giving for small children. What to do and what definitely not to do if you want the parents to speak to you again:

- don't ask the mom (dads tend not to have much of a clue- except perhaps Charlie's dad) what the child is interested in, then completely ignore all suggestions. It may come as a surprise, but parents spend a decent amount of time with their off-spring and tend to know what will be a hit. And there's nothing more irritating for a mother, than spending a decent amount of time e-mailing suggestions, for them all to be completely ignored.

In fact,

- do ask the parents for suggestions. The child may be in need of an umbrella, which can be a fun gift to buy; perhaps they have just been given a new sleeping bag, which sounds like the ideal gift, but you really only need one.

- don't buy age-inappropriate gifts. If you're buying for a 5 year old, no matter how "verbal" or intelligent s/he is, a toy designed for 6-8 year olds will probably be beyond his/her developmental ability, which will in turn lead to tears and tantrums from the child as they struggle to "play" with it, and pissed-off parents who have to cope with the aftermath. It's not a compliment to buy toys that are meant for older kids, nor will they "grow" into them without first being very upset that they can't use them right now.

- do wrap the presents before sending them. Small children are usually around when you open parcels, and cannot be trusted not to go after them even when you've told them it's not for them, and "hidden" them on a high shelf. A wrapped present, at least means that they might not rip the paper off. And sending unwrapped gifts also means that someone else will have to wrap it nicely for you. Come on - unless you're having something shipped directly to the child's house, and have notified the parent beforehand, wrap the damn thing up.

- don't buy crap. Buying cheap gifts is insulting to anyone, but when something breaks within ten minutes of coming out of the wrapping paper,small children tend to become slightly hysterical. In my opinion, parents are within their rights to explain to their children that the gift was "not made very well", even if there is a risk that this will be repeated to the gift giver at the first opportunity. Should this happen, parents should simply look the offending adult firmly in the eye and say "It broke almost immediately". You, the parents, shouldn't be the ones apologising.

- do exchange something that is broken yourself. If something isn't right for the child, have the good manners to exchange it yourself, unless the parent offers. If a child simply wants something else, then no, the gift giver shouldn't have to exchange it.

- do send the gift on time, if you're important to that child. Usually, small children have no concept that their godparent has forgotten to send a gift on time, but if you know that the child will remember, at least phone up on the day and tell him/her it's on its way.

- do make sure it will ship. There's nothing worse than a present arriving in the mail that's shattered beyond repair. The parents can't really ask you to get another one, and might end up having to fork up for a replacement if the child is particularly distraught. I realise that ham-fisted parcel delivery people may be to blame, but pause a second before buying the gift in the first place, and ask yourself "Will this arrive in one piece?"

- do attach a gift receipt if possible. In the US, you're nearly always offered a "gift receipt" when buying something. This allows the recipient to exchange it if they want something else, it doesn't fit or they already have the item. The gift receipt doesn't state the cost of the item, although that will be discovered if and when they exchange it for something else.

- don't eschew money. I used to pride myself on always being able to come up with good gift ideas, but as children (particularly boys) get to the 10-14 mark, it becomes more and more difficult. Besides, they're usually saving up for something and are grateful for the cash.

- don't re-gift old merchandise from stores who take back anything that they sold. We were once given a gift that didn't fit, but when we took it back to M&S, although they would willingly have given us a replacement size, they hadn't actually stocked that item for over three years. Nice.

If I've missed anything, please feel free to add to my rant.



  1. Ah the vexed present giving conundrum.......
    Of course the unwrapping is more fun than the dreaded gift.
    Greetings from another ex-pat writer in NY.

  2. So full of widomosity (a three year old, out of stock present from M&S - that's a really thoughtful gift!). Happy birthday to 6 year old.

  3. You are spot on with every one - not often that such sensible and all encompassing advice makes me chuckle out loud. I was just relieved to read that I follow almost all of your rules to the letter (someone hand the woman a Blue Peter badge) EXCEPT for the timeliness one. And now I am feeling a little bit - well, shit really. I am late for 2 kids pressies in the UK and by this time next week this number will be doubled. Not sure when my present timekeeping became so shockingly lax. Am definitely motivated to do something about it TODAY tho. So thanks for the unexpected prompt.

  4. DON'T email the parent at Christmas-time saying "Sorry I've been hopeless and have forgotten to get X a present".

    Why didn't I reply "oh don't worry, just send an Amazon voucher ( not It arrives by email instantaneously, so it isn't too late, and he'll absolutely love it"? Why on earth didn't I reply that? Why?

    Because the sarky side of my nature was crafting a reply (which I also didn't send) saying "oh heaven's don't worry. He's a child. He doesn't mind about presents at Christmas. What were you even thinking of ?"

    In the end I didn't even reply. (Five months down the road and clearly still bitter...)

  5. That post was a good idea! Very sensible. I think you just about covered everything.
    Hope your little *surprise* receives some really great surprises himself!

  6. Does your son have a Buzz Lightyear doll? If not, my friend can send the one I gave to his kid a few years back. He called me the day after his son's birthday and said "Dont ever buy him anything like that again". Apparently, his son got up at 4.30am the following morning and kept getting Buzz to say "Infinity and Beyond!". I may have been the fave "uncle" that day, but not the fave friend.

  7. Ha - yes, we actually have two, both with loud voices, so they have "debates" all the time.
    Reminds me of when my now 16 year old Nephew used to leap off the sofa and shout "Two fifty and beyond"!

  8. Would you mind just re-running this one at Christmas so I can print it off and send to all and sundry who might send the Boys a present? (And also, of course, stick it on the fridge door for myself... Let she who is without sin cast the first stone...)

  9. Not everyone agrees because it's slightly mercenary but I find money works last minute panic for wrapping paper or fear of getting it wrong and they can enjoy choosing what they want and I am so with you on that last child coming years and years later.... Lxx

  10. I hate trying to figure out what to get people, so I find money works best. Well, most of the time. My wife's birthday is next week and I doubt I could get away with putting a tenner in a card.

  11. I'd like to just send the "money" recommendation.


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