Thursday, December 15, 2005

the politics of the gift

'Tis the season to buy, buy, buy. And to prepare a range of sufficiently enthusiastic responses as you recieve. Ah, the art of sounding appreciative but believable as you open that dreaded gift from Aunt Millie. Lately, I've very much been enjoying the Old Navy ads on the subject. I think I'll get my partner a flannel shirt, too....yum.

There are mountains of social and familial pressure that comes with this consumerist extravaganza, as if love = gift, and especially as if love = pricetag. As someone preparing to celebrate a child's birthday in this season, I am delightedly breaking with tradition. We are going to have a 'presence, not presents' party, with suggestions for organizations who could use donations, since note everybody can shake the gift-giving habit just 'cause their hostess says so. And yes, people feel uncomfortable, even slightly offended by this decision - as if I'm casting aspersions on them, and their celebratory habits. Well, okay. I can see that.

Admittedly, I have two ulterior motives. First, is that I can see just how easily my kid could become the 'hi, what did you bring me' kid, turning a day that should celebrate him and his relationships, his family, his friends, into a day marked by its potential for greed. (shudder) Second, though, is that I'm hoping to be part of a new trend, freeing friends from the gift-giving treadmill for kids' birthday parties. My kid has playdates with three other kids, goes to school with fourteen, and at, say fifteen bucks a pop, that's a lot of money going to let him show up at a party, wrapped box in hand. Ouch. Call me cheap, but while the first reason touches my philosophies of parenting, the second reason is happily trampling on our family budget.

But what it really comes down to is this: there is a lot of junk in this world, and there are fewer people who are near and dear to me. Need to give a gift? Give an experience: offer to pay for a gymnastics class, a swim class, a special trip to somewhere - and preferably, come along with them. Given my choice, I'd rather spend my time with my dear ones than plaster a happy look on my face for the scarf du jour. It is my hope to teach my sons to hold this value, though I do rather feel like I'm swimming upstream on this one. The gift of time, of love, of an experience that opens your eyes to possibilities - now that is a real present, no box needed. And it saves me time on trudging around to make all of those return/exchanges...


sil-ly said...

Don't you dare return the gifts I give your kids! Just kidding :). Seriously though - when the party is at one of the local kiddie gyms, and my kid gets for free an experience that would normally cost money, experience plus pizza and juice plus some supervision so that I can chat with other mommies plus time with a bunch of friends -well, then I guess the $10-15 dollar entry fee/gift seems sort of acceptable.

But I appreciate what you are trying to do. The real question is, can we do this with adults? All your gifts this year were bought on It's such a nice thought...

mama o' the matrices said...

I adore Heifer. I recently tried to persuade my sweetie to give a bar mitzva gift from them, since what better nudge into pseudo-adulthood than an expanded community awareness? No go, though he made a persuasive argument as to why.
But let me ask you: if you gave us a gift that missed the mark, would you be offended if we donated it? Or would it be better to exchange it? And would you want to know? In other words, how much control do people want over this process? By letting someone give my kid a toy, I let them dictate (only a little) a small aspect of my kid's upbringing. (Remember: I don't know what's under the wrappings!)This is how my kid knows about SpiderMan, Batman - various unpleasantly commercialized concepts that I'd hoped to avoid until he was old enough for the comic books.
So while I trust you, say, it's more of a crapshoot with people barely known by me. Of course, I am a control freak!