Sorting through my daughter’s toys to find things for her school’s Haiti benefit sale, I make a mental note to invite fewer children to her next birthday party. The last one was in May, but there is still a shelf full of presents that she hasn’t yet played with. I surreptitiously drop a few items into an opaque carrier bag, hoping she won’t notice.
Not that I mind the parties. I will happily host a couple of dozen children, organise races in the garden, and serve up a hearty tea, but I dislike the obligatory present that serves as an uofficial entry fee to every child’s party. It would be unthinkable to turn up without one. And I would have to be a heartless mother indeed to put on the invitations “no presents please”.
It would be so much tidier, easier and cheaper if we could persuade our children to exchange cyber-presents instead of the real thing, as is currently the vogue on Facebook. I haven’t yet got the hang of it myself, but it seems that if you play certain online games, you can win gifts to forward to your friends. A kitten, some freshly baked cookies, a bunch of forget-me-nots, a share of some buried treasure, a heart – I have received all of these things lately. They are touching gifts and are particularly welcome because they bring with them no responsibiity. I can enjoy my kitten without having to clean out cat litter. The cookies won’t trouble my conscience or my waistline. And I don’t need to find a transplant surgeon to make sure the heart doesn’t go to waste.
If only we could apply the same technology to the tradition of children’s party gifts. It would save an awful lot of time, trouble and wrapping paper. And children would come up with much more imaginative gifts than on Facebook. My daughter would give things like a unicorn, a flying carpet and a pink kitten. I’d like to add the Wishing Chair from the Enid Byton books – how cool a present would that be?
If everyone adapted this virtual giving, the whole birthday thing would be so much less fraught.
But then, the Haiti sale would not have done anywhere near as well.