home life, holidays, money

Happy Birthday!

My son is old enough to understand birthdays and be excited, but young enough to not really care about having a big to-do. (Or maybe he’s growing up to be just as anti-social as Mommy!)

Every time he wants something, he says he wants it for his birthday: new train track pieces; a new Thomas “roller coaster” track for those strange, pointless, tiny little trains; a trampoline. He doesn’t want everything he sees, but when he wants something, he remembers it. He will get a few things for his birthday – usually one gift per person, and only close family comes to the party – but I’m sure he will remember to ask for a trampoline for his next birthday, until I remind him that Christmas will come around before his next birthday. Then he will start the Christmas list.

When he gets gifts, he is very thankful for them. He thanks the giver (usually with prompting) and plays with the toys for a long time. Most of the toys he has work together, like the wooden train pieces that build together, and wooden trains to drive on them. Or the pointless tiny Thomas trains that link together for a parade, or zoom around on tracks that take batteries. Or cars and trucks… so many different cars and trucks! They fill one of his toy bins, but he seriously plays with ALL of them, so… they stay.

The birthday party itself is never a huge deal. He has friends at school but we don’t really do playdates or anything yet. We invite grandparents and aunts/uncles/cousins, and our parties usually top out at 12 people – mostly adults. It’s always in the afternoon, post-nap, with snacks and cupcakes for the guests. I hate stressing over hosting major dinners and parties, so I like keeping them minimal. Napkins for the snacks, candy, and cupcakes, cups for punch, and that’s about it. Two hours of togetherness is perfect for kids the ages we have (about-to-be-4, 5, and 8) and they can play outside if it’s not rainy.

His party is right around the corner, and now that’s he’s older I’m eager to see how he will open the gifts on his own (he still had trouble last year) and thank the givers without prompting.

holidays, money, shopping

Experiences

I used to love getting presents. I would snoop in my parents’ closet weeks before my birthday or Christmas, trying to sneak a peek of the toys they bought me. As I grew older, I still liked gifts, though they became more practical, like books or bags or stuff for my home.

Now when I think of giving a gift, I like to think of it as giving an experience. I like giving someone tickets to a play or concert they’ve wanted to go to. I like taking my son to the Children’s Museum or the zoo and leaving without a souvenir. His memories can be his souvenirs. (And, let’s be honest – I’ve taken plenty of pictures we can look over.)

Some of my favorite gifts have been tickets to an event: on my 16th birthday I got two floor seats to an upcoming Aerosmith show; for Christmas two years ago I got tickets to the musical Matilda; for two occasions I’ve gotten tickets to see Jerry Seinfeld live… I can remember these all so clearly. But other gifts are harder to remember, unless it’s something I use often and can remember when I got it, or unless I see pictures from the party or gathering and see what I unwrapped.

I don’t think experiences need to be saved to be given as gifts. We recently treated my son to Bubble Guppies Live! because it was in town for one night only, and it is one of his favorite shows. But overall, my favorite type of gift to get is an experience – and it doesn’t have to be an event! The act of being together, doing something together, is the actual gift. A handwritten coupon for a homemade dinner is just as great an experience – especially if the coupon includes the giver doing the dishes afterwards!

holidays, money, school

Standing Your Ground

It’s hard to be zero waste sometimes. In my house, I have complete control. I can package things in glass containers and reuse them. I can recycle. I can pick what I purchase and make sure it’s economical financially and environmentally. But out in the world, it gets a little harder.

I mentioned Valentines before, those little paper slips every kid hands out to every other kid in their class. Every Valentine’s Day, from preschool to middle school. That’s a lot of waste. My son’s preschool has different kids come on different days, so he had two Valentines parties. We sent one batch of Valentines, thinking the kids who were there on the first day would get theirs, and the kids who only attend on the other day would get theirs at that party. My son came home Tuesday with Valentines from his classmates, and on Wednesday he came home with more – some from the same classmates.

I felt embarrassed and cheap. “Was I supposed to send another set of Valentines for the second party?” I asked the teacher. She assured me it was fine, but another teacher was looking on with an expression that made me feel like I should have sent more.

But I hate them! (To be fair, some are cool. Some are just gummies with a note on the wrapper. Some had sticky hands attached, and those are always fun. But most were just slips of paper.) Why was I so worried that I had done something wrong, when I didn’t really want to do it in the first place?

I don’t want to be seen as cheap. But honestly, I guess I am cheap. I’m not stingy – I will buy things for fun for my kids; I will splurge on a nice dinner or treat a friend to coffee. But I felt cheap for not sending a second batch of paper Valentines. Why?!

How do you deal with standing strong in public? I have yet to take glass containers to the store to buy granola in bulk. I usually forget to take in my canvas bags, but when I do, the baggers always seem a little taken aback. I have no problem explaining why I think and do what I do, but sometimes it’s hard, and I feel the pressure from society to just conform to consumerism and waste. Does anyone else feel this way? How do you react?

holidays, home life

Valentines for Everyone?

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, so holidays are on my mind. I used to love holidays as a kid – any special day was worth celebrating! Even as a young adult, I would celebrate different anniversaries with friends, boyfriends, referencing concerts I’d seen, and more. I loved marking time and highlighting special days. But the older I got, the less I cared. It’s just a day, right? And honestly, who has the energy to decorate and celebrate so many little days?

Valentine’s Day seems like the most wasteful holiday to me. I know people say it’s a Hallmark holiday, made up to sell cards, and we should celebrate love every day. And I agree with all of that. I don’t like Valentine’s Day, and I don’t want a gift or flowers tomorrow. But I’m sure I’ll get them, with my husband being all about the holidays. I do have a gift for each boy – a book and some candy. (February 14th is, after all, International Book Giving Day. I’m much more excited about that holiday than Valentine’s Day.)

My son is giving out Valentines in class. This is what is the most wasteful to me – giving a card to everyone in your class. He’s in preschool, so he is only handing out about 20 cards for classmates and teachers. My stepson will have to hand out close to 30. That’s 50 little sheets of paper total, some with envelopes. And why? It’s not even to show someone you like them, since you have to give everyone a card. I get the concept – let’s not leave anyone out. But why do it at all? Can’t we just say “Happy Valentine’s Day” instead?

My son’s cards are just a slip of paper with a little shaped eraser attached. I was hoping this was more practical, since it’s something useful, and it’s not candy (considering allergies, anti-sugar folk, etc). It will probably still get thrown away (or hopefully recycled), but it seems a little more thoughtful. We don’t have cards for my stepson’s class yet because he just told us about it yesterday, but hopefully he will also choose cards without envelopes. At least that will save a bit of waste.

Enough from my crotchety self – how do you feel about Valentine’s Day?