Monday, November 07, 2005

Goody Goody

If you happen to be an adult without a small child, you would be forgiven if you thought the only thing that children took away from attending a birthday party was a juice box/frosting headache. You would, however, be painfully mistaken, because each one of those sugar-cranked cherubs is carrying a goody bag.

I don’t know which mother first decided to make these mandatory, but I need to have a few words with her out behind the Gymboree. So many parts of this ritual irritate me that I hardly know where to begin. First of all, have we decided as a culture that our children are so delicate that they cannot handle the stress of giving a present without receiving something in return?

I will grant you that my daughter does not handle well knowing that her friend is getting something she herself wanted. So, guess what? I alternate between having a Painful But Necessary Learning Experience, where we discuss the true nature of giving, or I wrap the present before she can see it. If she espies the outgoing My Little Pony, and covets it loudly and lamentingly, I crisply inform her she can request is as either a birthday or Christmas present -- her birthday being in summer works well for this, as I have about six months with each.

Of course, I can also tell her that she is going to get a bag full of shiny crap at the party to distract her from the unspeakable horror of not getting every single thing she wants, exactly when she wants it.Which leads me neatly to Gripe #2: If the first three years of the life of a child are about foul-smelling semi-liquids shooting from their bodies on to the floor, the next three years are about wee plastic things, shooting from their hands on to the floor. Every single toy in my child’s room generates at least one element smaller than a quarter that is inconspicuous on the floor yet capable of transforming the arch of my bare foot to a kabob.

I estimate that I spend up to 17% of my waking hours dealing in some way with small plastic accessories. But the place where the plastic doohickeys really thrive is my car. Biology be damned, I know that they are frantically copulating under the mats, doubling in population every two days. And it seems that just when I finally remove enough plastic flotsam from my car to melt down and create Legoland, she attends another birthday party. The bag is given to my daughter, before I can get at it and remove the most egregious elements. She tears it open with the abandon of a frenzied predator. Within minutes, I cannot make a left-hand turn without hearing the pounding surf of gaily-colored plastic crap rolling around under the drivers’ seat.

And then there is Gripe #3: The contents. Opening a gift bag on the ride home should be a simple pleasure, to help wind down from the party, and I dearly wish that it could be so. However, the bag inevitably contains some pesky little surprise. To entertain myself, I have started a game where I pick the most, shall we say, unlikely element in the goody bag. Some past favorites have included: hard-candy balls in the bags made for two year-olds; nail polish; and my personal favorite -- small whistles that make a sound so painful the Geneva convention should be invoked.

More than once I have managed, while driving on the freeway, to reach back and snatch one of those whistles away from my daughter, expecting to see packs of deranged hell-dogs bounding towards our car in the rearview mirror. Her howls of outrage were loud, but my eardrums were already pierced, so it didn’t trouble me much.

I have to inspect the bags that come from any girl-oriented party especially closely, as they inevitably feature some kind of glitter-based cosmetic, and my daughter cannot be counted on to practice restraint. Let me be candid, the beauticians who work at funeral homes have a lighter hand. In her defense, I have done my makeup in the car many a time, and it’s never where you do your finest work. But if I have any hope of taking her somewhere within the next 48 hours that doesn’t involve the words Discotheque or Amateur Nite, she needs to be separated from this fairy dust.

I do have sympathy for the parents who produce goody bags. It’s a neat way to let the guests know “Hey, you’ve eaten pizza, ruined our new sod, and left half-eaten cake under the sink in our guest bathroom. Please go now”.

Hey, maybe it’s just me, but I would really take another hint.

Air horns are festive.

(First printed Feb 18, 2005)


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