Death to the Birthday Party Goodie Bag

A collection of goodie bag detritus fished out of the corners of my house.
A collection of goodie bag detritus fished out of the corners of my house.

Last weekend I ran an experiment on 16 boys.

My middle-schooler had his birthday party and I did not provide goodie bags. I wanted to see if his friends would even notice.

It is hard to conceive what an eleven year old boy would want in a goodie bag.

Surely they are over cheap pencils with chronically fragile leads?

Super-hero erasers that would more accurately be called ‘smudgers’ must have lost all utility by now?

Now, they have adult teeth I’m loathed to load them up with candy. It’s hard to get them to clean their teeth. They’ll build a virtual toothbrush on Minecraft, but actually using a real one; that’s a tough ask.

The personal hygiene penny has yet to drop so a jar smelly-shoe powder or a stick of deodorant would probably elicit blank looks from the guests and a resigned ‘Dad you are so embarrassing’ glare from my son.

The whole concept of birthday party favors is wrong.

I accept that a personalized momento of a once in the lifetime celebration is appropriate. We gave out woven flax-leaf bags at our wedding containing a selection of items that had meaning to us.

The only thing a party-supply store goodie bag tells you about the giver is his or her favorite superhero or princess. A fact that was probably apparent as soon as you opened the invitation.

A birthday party is a celebration of one person’s special day. Can’t we leave it at that? Let’s teach our kids it is not all about them. You give your friend a gift because it is their day, not so you can get a little bag of unhealthy food or dysfunctional knick-knacks in return.

I don’t recall getting party favors when I was a kid. That was in the distant age when you didn’t get a trophy for showing up at soccer or a bunch of flowers for making up the chorus numbers in the school recital.

People of my generation are constantly complaining about Millennials. They are over-entitled and impatient. They have unrealistic expectations for career advancement. They are not prepared to do the hard yards.

They are the first generation of kids who grew up expecting a gift when they went to a birthday party.

As it happened none of the boys appeared bereft when their hour of paintball was up and they left empty handed. I was sweating it a little bit, but once they discovered the left-over pizza my anxiety disappeared, or rather it was refocused on recall of the Heimlich maneuver.

Using the advent of middle school as excuse to bury the goodie bag is just a sign of my own inability to take a stand earlier in life.

I’ve been itching to write this column since my boy was in preschool. We had the farcical situation where the class would celebrate a birthday and the parents would leave a gift bag in every child’s cubby. So even those kids who had not been to the actual out-of-school party would get a rewarded. They got a gift when they had not even given one!

I drafted a letter to the pre-school administration requesting this daft practice be stopped, but I never sent it.

I mounted a more subtle protest. I sent mandarin oranges as my contribution to the Valentine’s Day collection. I started lacing my own children’s goodie bags with a deeply subversive item designed to question the status quo. An item to challenge kids and parents alike. I found something that wouldn’t end up in some fish-killing oceanic plastic heap after the kids inevitably lost interest in it.

Long before Wall Street was occupied, I occupied my goodie bags with the most wholesome, anti-commercial gift I could think of.

I filled them with apples!

Organic apples.

It sure felt good. Many parents thought it was great idea, but it didn’t catch on. I get it. As a parent you have to pick your battles. It’s taken me ten years too fully join this one. As my wife pointed out birthday parties are stressful for most little kids. They don’t need their parents too make them stick out from the crowd any more than having to blow out four candles does.

It is easier just to go with the flow, to let Party Incorporated lead the goodie bag trend. To let the little children suffer a yo-yo which doesn’t retract.

Or maybe we can collectively make a change.


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