Just this weekend, my friend Noshi held a birthday party for her daugher's 4th birthday. When the kids are as young as ours, the whole family is usually invited. I remember looking at her neatly arranged, personalized, and decorated goody bags with extreme trepidation. My first thought was, "Wow, she really put alot of work into decorating those bags, they look like something Martha Stewart would create for kids, ribbons and all." Noshi likes doing that kind of stuff, and I have nothing against that, some moms like to put time into extra touches and decorations, and others (like me) don't. The only thing I was hoping for was that there was NO candy in those goody bags. My kids had already skipped the pizza and made a meal out of the birthday cake, the last thing I wanted was to sugar them up more.
Honestly, I don't even care if my children get goody bags at birthday parties. When I was younger I don't remember ever going to a birthday party and coming back with anything more than a little plastic baggy with Reese's Peanut Butter cups and M&Ms. Maybe a few scratch n' sniff stickers if the parents were extra generous. Sometimes, there were no goody bags at all, and I was okay with that. After all, it wasn't my birthday, why should I get a gift for attending someone else's birthday?
But now, there seems to be a competition of sorts amongst moms as to who can pack and present the best goody bags. I'll be the first to admit, I'm lousy at making goody bags. I lack creativity in this department and have now resorted to just buying one or two little toys for each child attending and wrapping it or stuffing it into a bag. Nothing too expensive, I keep a budget of $3 to $5 per child and buy coloring kits or puzzles from Target or the Dollare Store. I don't have time to do things with ribbons, glue-guns, and construction paper. I'm sure I could make the time if I really wanted to, but I don't. I never saw goody bags as being that important as the food and activities at the party. But now that I've been working the birthday party circuit for a couple of years, I'm finding that the whole lasting impression of your party lies within your goody bag. If you hand out crap, people are going to walk away with the impression that your party sucked and you are cheap. If you go over the top, people will wonder if they gave your child a nice enough gift to deserve such a well-stocked goody bag. The hardest part about making a goody bag is finding that middle ground. We all know that kids will be happy to get anything, and they don't care whether the goody bag toys came from the Dollar Store or Toys R Us, it's the parents we are worried about pleasing. We want the parents to think we took the effort to write little Johnny's name on his bag and picked out a special gift just for him, no, make that 10 little gifts, and wait, there's candy too. What should be a special day to celebrate the birth of your child turns into an event riddled with performance anxiety.
I wish we could do away with goody bags altogether. Let's face it, moms have enough pressure to plan their child's birthday party and make sure junior eats his cake without ruining the little man's tuxedo your mother made him wear (or in my case, it was the little maharaja suit, complete with a turban fit for a prince). My first time, I didn't want to chance it and outsourced the goody bag making to Birthday Express. I got the Colorful Favor Boxes which looked nice, were budget friendly, and safe for all ages. Afterwards, I fell into the trap of handing out bags of candy, because that's what all the other moms were doing at their parties. Now, the latest trend I've seen is that the goody bags are stocked with not only candy, but toys, coloring books, crayons, you name it. Recently, my son received a remote controlled Ford Bronco in his goody bag. I was floored. This is the point when you think to yourself, did I give them a gift of equal or more value? I hope I did. At that birthday party I gave their 3-year-old birthday boy Diego's Talking Rescue Pack, I hope it was equivalent to the Bronco and the two dolls my girls received for attending the party.
So anyway, back to admiring my friend's neatly organized and personlized goody bags. What was inside? Well, the kids wasted no time pillaging them when we got home. All the kids got: a chalkboard activity set that looked like it cost at least $10, a measuring tape, a pencil, 8 permanent markers (why, Noshi, why?), a lollipop known as a Clicker Licker (once your done with the lollipop, you have a toy that makes clicking sounds when you shake it), an inflatable soccer ball (butterflies on a stick for the girls), a note pad, stickers, a key chain, a paddle with a ball attached to it by an elastic string, and a bag full of candy that included M&M's, a couple of Pixie sticks full of sugar, and a giant lollipop as big as the children's face (is there a child alive who can possibly eat a lollipop this big in one sitting? Is it even safe to eat that much sugar?) The only thing missing was a partridge in a pear tree.
Well, the giant lollipops were licked twice and stuck to the carpet, the Pixie sticks were broken and sprinkled around the family room, and the permanent markers, holy hell, they opened all of them and started drawing pictures on their own legs, hands, arms, and tummies. While all this was happening, I was laying on the couch trying to rest and recover from attending the party. I hadn't slept much the night before and thought it would be a good idea to rest a bit while the children "played". By the time I noticed what had happened, the tatoo parlor the kids had opened up with the markers was in full swing. I initially got really mad looking at the mess, but then I realized, they're just kids. It's not their fault their Auntie Noshi went crazy over making goody bags and handed permanent markers to them (which I think is equivalent to handing car keys to a person who can't drive), and I really should have inspected the bag before I handed it to them, but oh well. I didn't get mad at them, I actually sat down to play with them. I'm always yelling at them for messes, it's time I started letting it go (I cleaned it up later). I drew pictures on their hands and my hands with the markers. Smiley faces, flowers, all that cheesey stuff. It's been a couple days since the event and the stains from the markers are just starting to disappear.
Well, this is getting really long so I'm just going to wrap it up. The point I want to make is, there really is no need to give so many things in goody bags, especially expensive things. I ended up having to throw those permanent markers away because they had started to write on the white carpeting with them. The giant lollipops, which cost Noshi $2 each (she left the price tag on by mistake), was just money down the drain. Instead of wasting money buying lollipops that were going to be licked twice and thrown away, I would have rather she saved that money. Or if she was really itching to buy my kids something, just go to the Dollar Store and buy them a book. Books are something that last much longer than sugar, and always please both the kids and the parents. I don't care about the quantity or cost of the items in a goody bag, it's the thought that really counts, and I would much rather have my kids receive one book each, than a bag full of sugar and toys I'm eventually going to trip on, and throw away.