Posted by: Jamie Stamm | June 19, 2008

Birthday presents

I must confess that I hate having big birthday parties for my kids. Not because of the planning (I actually love to organize social events, which is good since my husband and I host most holiday gatherings for our families) or because of the money involved (for the cake and the ice cream and the decorations and some form of entertainment and … the list goes on and on).

What I dislike most about kids’ parties is the presents. First, there’s the question of when to open them. I am a strong proponent of waiting until after the party because, as the honoree is busy unwrapping, the other kids either decide they need to help, which often ends up with the birthday child in tears, or they become dreadfully bored and wander off to find some kind of trouble.

And then there are the presents themselves. At my daughter’s age, that means lots of My Little Ponys and Barbies and other things that she already has too many of (and in her case, it’s multiplied because her birthday comes less than three weeks after Christmas), and usually some other gifts that I find totally age-inappropriate. (Cera got makeup from a friend for her fourth birthday. Why does a preschooler need lipstick and blush? Is she going on a date? Her dad had better not find out.)

So, how to avoid all those presents?

This year, the solution was simple. For Cera’s birthday, we had the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences present a program about dinosaurs at her day care, followed by cake and ice cream. So she still got the benefit of a party (and an educational one to boot) but without all the gifts – and she didn’t even seem to notice.

But I know it won’t be quite so easy as she starts kindergarten and enters the world of competitive birthday parties. You remember: After your best friend had her party at a gymnastics facility, you had to one-up her by holding your fiesta at Chuck E. Cheese.

Which meant all the cool kids would come.

Which meant there would be tons of presents.

Because I imagine other parents feel the same way I do, when my daughter gets invited to a birthday party, I try to steer her toward something crafty or educational (unless she insists that her friend has to have the Barbie with the sparkly pink tutu or the pony with a cotton candy print on its hindquarters). And if it’s a spring or summer birthday, I try to guide her to toys that can be used for outdoor play.

I appreciate when other parents go the unique route, too. I think the best present Cera ever received from a friend was a set of 100 Wilton cookie cutters. She wasn’t too excited when she first opened it (although I was), but we have used those cookie cutters over and over again. We cut out bat and pumpkin cookies for her class at Halloween and trees and reindeer for her grandparents at Christmas, and we made Jello Jiggler letters, spelling out the names of Cera and her friend Callie, as a treat for a recent sleepover. We even dyed our cookie dough for St. Patrick’s Day and made dinosaurs and shamrocks and other “green” shapes.

So, fellow parents, I implore you to join me in the search for creative gifts for that next birthday party. But if you end up buying a Barbie because your son or daughter insisted that’s what the birthday girl wanted most, I’ll completely understand.

After all, it’s our kids’ happiness that really matters.



  1. I completely agree with you and LOVE the idea you had for Cera’s birthday, by having the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences present a program about dinosaurs at her day care. That’s great!! I also LOVED the cookie cutter present too.

    8 months ago, I launched a website called It is a kids birthday wishlist community dedicated to kids birthdays and holidays.
    It all started with my son 3rd Superman birthday.

    On mykids you create a profile, then an extended one for each child, create a wishlist via amazon or shop and create wishlist through our shopping page, create a Upromise account allowing family members to contribute to college savings, and coming soon we will have a page dedicated to some of our favorite charities so parents can request a donation to a charity in lieu of a toy, etc..

    You can also be green and invite guests through our einvite, receive online RSVP’s and post pictures & videos of the party.

    Hope to see you there! Membership is Free.

    I am mom just like you. I have a 21 month old and 4 yr old. I love a great party but I am believer in saving time, money and being creative. is a site meant to do that in a warm friendly way.

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