Used to be, when your kids went to birthday parties, you brought along a gift for the birthday boy or girl. In exchange, your kid would get pizza, a big, sloppy, sugary piece of cake, a chance to play with friends (or more recently, pet a boa constrictor and jump on a bouncy castle while being dazzled by a magician with live doves), and a goody bag filled with candy and cheap plastic crap from China. Maybe a kazoo.
Probably a kazoo.
But now this agreement among parents for the social contract of the child’s birthday party has been altered, and it is a disturbing development. I heard from a mom on the left coast that this gift-for-goody-bag pact is no longer how it works. No, now you are required to bring a gift for the birthday girl or boy and for some other kid at the party. Then that extra gift is placed on a table with all the other gifts from everyone else, where the kids at the party — kids who, odds are, most likely not celebrating their own birthdays — get to take one, grab bag style.
Though I have not personally witnessed this particular brand of parental heresy, I have endured enough children’s birthday parties to predict how such an event ends up:
- The children descend upon this Table of Gifts and push and shove for the biggest box with the coolest wrapping paper, because for kids, the biggest box no doubt has the most expensive and therefore best present in it. Think Lord of the Flies meets Black Friday at Walmart.
- Then the parents shout, “There’s enough for everybody!” and “Stop pushing Sophie in the face!”
- The fastest and strongest shall succeed, while the rest reluctantly and tearfully take what’s left.
- As the kids will open their presents, they simultaneously start assessing what everyone else has.
- One neighbor, the one with the Hummer and the boob job, has no doubt purchased the coveted by all people under 12 Star Wars Clone Trooper Voice Changer. (Retail price: $163.95).
- The kid who opens it lets out a shriek of joy, like the moment that a contestant on the Price is Right who’s watching the curtain open hears, “…a new car!”
- Everyone else drops their presents, including the birthday boy or girl, to stare with envy.
- The sugar-fueled emotions swell up, like hurricane season just off the coast of New Jersey. It’s coming. You can feel it.
- Children run crying to their parents, who simultaneously console their children by assuring them that their Shrinky Dink kit (retail price: $19.99 ) is, in fact, just as much fun as the coveted by all people under 12 Star Wars Clone Trooper Voice Changer, while shooting dirty looks at the mom who brought the damn thing to the party.
- Parents decide now is a good time to leave the party, filing out with sobbing children clutching jump ropes and rug-hooking sets, and, inexplicably, a kid-sized T-shirt that reads, “Barcelona 2013.”
- The kid with the Star Wars Clone Trooper Voice Changer tells the birthday kid that he/she got one, too, because, “My mom got it for you.” Which is how the kid knew which present to open.
- And children’s birthday parties, already firmly situated in the 7th ring of Hell, fall into the fire.
Or everybody gets the same Dora the Explorer backpack with matching lunchbox. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we are now teaching kids that they deserve swag simply for showing up. Which helps pinpoint Mom Zero in this frightening outbreak: She’s a blogger. She’s used to being showered in cool free stuff, and she wants little Jacob or Isabella in on it.
And because she’s a blogger, she has influence, particularly in social media. So her plot to ruin children’s birthday parties has spread beyond her circle of friends and up the coast, and it’s probably heading in your direction soon. Like hurricane season off the Jersey coast, you can feel it.
Run for your lives! The swag is coming.