Thursday December 8th (tomorrow) is the anniversary of a wonderful occasion; on that day in 1999 my daughter was born. As much as I love my daughter, I was not looking forward to this weekend. Setting aside the fact that it completely weirds me out because I simply don’t feel grown-up enough to have a 12-year-old, my biggest fear is The Party. My daughter asked us if she could have a sleepover party for her birthday, and wanted to invite 5 of her friends. Because our love for her apparently supersedes our instinct for self-preservation, we said yes. Therefore this weekend, my house will be inhabited by 6 middle-school girls for approximately 18 hours… O. M. G! What have we done?
It is a very rare occasion when I am able to tolerate the kids having friends over for an afternoon, let alone overnight. But I don’t know if we have ever had more than 2 of someone else’s kids stay the night, and this weekend there will be 5 extra kids. She invited four friends from middle school and one friend from her elementary school (to remain anonymous, let’s call her “Friend E”). Friend E said she could not come because she had an appointment in the morning. My daughter was extremely disappointed because Friend E lives in our old neighborhood and therefore goes to a different school; as a result my daughter only gets to see her a few times a year.
However, one problem I did not foresee is The Gift Dilemma. If I had not been completely terrified by the possibility of being taken hostage by a gang of giggling 6th-grade girls, I might have though to include a note requesting they not bring gifts. After all, she considers this party to be a gift. Yesterday I learned there was another reason Friend E said she couldn’t come to the party – she couldn’t afford to buy a present. This broke my heart. I know my daughter would not have cared if she didn’t get any presents at all; she just wants her friends to come to her party. It never even occurred to me that someone would decline a party invitation for this reason. When I was her age I was rarely invited to parties at all; the thought of declining an invitation would never have crossed my mind. I would have to confirm this with my family but I’m fairly certain if I was told I could not attend a party, I probably would have thrown a tantrum like a 2-year-old.
I shared my discovery on Facebook and received some excellent advice from my wonderful friends & family on how to approach the issue. I ended up calling Friend E’s mother to see if she could attend the party for a few hours. on Friday evening; this way she could come to the party but would also still be home to get to her appointment on Saturday morning. I also told the mother what I had heard about the Gift Dilemma and said that my daughter really just wanted her friend to come to the party so no gifts were necessary. I felt like a complete jackass even bringing it up but I wanted to make sure she knew that it was ok not to bring a gift. To make the whole situation worse, Friend E’s mother was completely surprised by my phone call because she didn’t even know there was a party; her daughter hadn’t even told her! She said of course Friend E could come for a few hours on Friday evening, which was terrific news, but after the phone call I felt even worse than before. Was her daughter so embarrassed that she didn’t even want to ask her mother about the party because she knew they couldn’t afford to buy a gift and didn’t want to make her mom feel bad? Or was her mother so embarrassed by my bringing up the Gift Dilemma that she pretended she didn’t know about the party at all? Either way I felt like toe fungus when I hung up the phone.
All day today I could not stop thinking about the situation. Things would be so much easier if people treated birthdays like Hobbits, whose custom is to give gifts to other Hobbits on your birthday. And that’s when the stroke of genius hit me. We had already assembled a few party favors for the girls, but what if we actually gave them all presents too? Of course we really can’t afford to buy any significant gifts for them; we’re not exactly rolling in dough ourselves. Instead I took my daughter to Target & let her loose in the dollar section by the front entrance. She picked out some really great things, and we took them home & wrapped them up.
To make it extra fun, we took inspiration from my mom’s family decided to make a game out of it. On Christmas Day for the last several years, instead of drawing names, my mom’s family has an semi-anonymous white elephant gift exchange, I have also heard this game called Dirty Bingo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_elephant_gift_exchange). I’m sure everyone plays this a little differently; the rules on Wikipedia are a bit different from my family’s rules. To the best of my recollection, here’s how we play it:
(1) Person A takes Gift A from the pile and opens it.
(2) Person B takes Gift B from the pile. Person B does not like Gift A so she keeps Gift B and opens it. Person A eyes Gift B jealously.
(3) Person C takes Gift C from the pile. Instead of opening it, Person C takes Gift A from Person A and gives Gift C to Person A.
(4) Person A seizes the opportunity to take Gift B for herself, leaving Gift C with Person B.
(5) Person B is now required to open Gift C, because this could conceivable go on forever and we do not want that. Therefore an unopened gift can only be traded twice.
(6) Once Gift C is opened, Person D will select a gift and decide whether to keep it or trade it.
(7) The cycle continues until all the gifts are opened.
In my opinion, this game is outrageously fun. I have even bought things in spring and summer because they strike me as something which would be hilarious in the context of the Christmas gift game. My kids also love this game so I knew my daughter would love the idea. I hope her friends agree! With this idea we are not only providing entertainment for a gaggle of girls, but we are also allowing everyone the joy of receiving gifts and my daughter gets the fun of watching all her friends open gifts too so the focus is not all on what her friends bought for her. Plus, Friend E gets to go home with fun stuff from her friend, which she probably couldn’t afford to buy for herself. It’s a win-win-win-win! Sometimes I just want to pat myself on the back.