Amazon' Grace

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

[Guest Post by Sara]

Birthday party invitations fall down like rain when you have a four year old. I actually hadn’t realized that when your child has a birthday, you are supposed to rent out some sort of facility and invite the whole preschool. Woops, my bad (next year, Lucy!).

Anyway, whenever my little Lucy presents me with a party invitation, three main thoughts run through my head:

(1) Oh, goody, a set plan for a weekend and one that will thrill my child!

(2) Oh no, I am working and will have to miss out (I work a lot of weekends – the upside being that I am home with my kids during the week).

(3) We have to go on the Dreaded Birthday Gift Shopping Trip

But wait, wait…that was until recently. Numbers 1 and 2 still apply, but I have found a handy-dandy way to deal with Number 3. The big one…you know…the one that involves going to Target with your 4-yr-old who doesn’t understand why she isn’t getting a present and your 2-yr-old who refuses to do anything but stand up in the seat part of the cart thus eliciting muffled voices of judgy people around you (“That kid’s gonna split her head open!” Side note: What does that mean, exactly, to split one’s head open? I’m not sure, but it is a fate of which that I lived in dreaded fear for the first twelve years of my life.)

I solved this little ‘ole problem one morning as I was wondering how on earth we’d have time to get to the store for a present, wrap said present, and arrive at the birthday party at the appointed hour. And, added to this, I had no idea what to get the party girl. I think this is actually the bigger issue than the Dreaded Birthday Gift Shopping Trip. It’s a Catch 22, really – your choices are either to get the kid something he/she really wants, which in this day and age means they TOTALLY ALREADY OWN IT (remember when we had to wait for holidays to get gifts? Nah-uh. They seemed to have changed that rule round about 1989) or you get them something in which they have TOTALLY NO INTEREST. There are some other choices, of course – things that it’s ok for kids to have multiples of and that they all like, such as bubbles and sunglasses and sidewalk chalk. But, still, all us moms are already drowning in that stuff, aren’t we? In my town, which is fairly wealthy (mind you, I live in the smallest house in town), the toy store actually has a gift registry for birthdays in an effort to ease this conundrum. But I hope as you read this, you are thinking what I am thinking. OVER MY DEAD BODY. Registries are for weddings, and even at that any bride with a conscience cringes a bit at the thought (but hey all, thanks for the Vera Wang china! It comes in handy in my daily life!).

So where was I going with this story? Ah, yes, the morning of a party, running short on time, no gift in hand. So I thought of what my husband does when he neglects until the last minute to send a birthday gift to a family member…he sends…an Amazon gift card. Brilliant! You can get anything you want. A book. A toy. A ticket to Tahiti to lie on the beach all by yourself for the week (woops, did I type that?). So, I went on the Amazon website and click click click, I ordered up a gift card for the party girl. I opted for the type that they e-mail you and you print out at home. I have a color printer and some nice cardstock, so it looked pretty great when printed out and folded up – but really, plain paper and a black & white printer will do. Heck, have your kid color all over it because all the recipient needs to read is the code.

But wait, you ask, what about the birthday card? With the Amazon gift card, your message gets printed out right on it – but if you want to use a separate card (which I like to do), I’ll tell you the secret to that as well. I keep a box of generic birthday cards at home. When it comes time for a party, I have Lucy write her name and the child’s name on it and she also adds some of her creative “flair” via depictions of the birthday child with flaming candles on his or her head. The box was $1.69 for 15 little cards – I can’t do math (that is why I went to law school), but I think that means the cards are about eleven cents each. That is a whole lot cheaper than three bucks or whatever cards go for these days. I take the card and the Amazon gift card and tie a ribbon around them both and call it a day.

Ok, so you may have a few questions.

First, how much? My standard is $15. I know that is not much, but it will get the child a book or a toy. I sometimes go for $20 if it’s a really good friend (now you know.). I can’t be worried about them knowing the dollar amount of my gift. If you’re a parent, I’m sure you’d agree that you would rather have your ten guests each bring a $15 gift card – wow, that would be $150 to spend on something really cool! – than 10 buckets of sidewalk chalk and bubbles.

Next, what do the recipients think? Well, we have noticed that the trend (around these parts anyway) is to open presents after the party – very unlike when I was a kid, when gift-opening WAS the party. So I don’t really know – except for one party where she did open the gifts there and had to be sort of coached by her parents as to how cool this gift was (“Look, Quinn, I gift card!!!!!”). In situations like that, I think it’s a bit hard on my Lucy because she gets excited about what she is giving. My solution to this will be to keep a few silly things on hand to include with the card – kids love gifts regardless of value – so that should solve that problem. But, in the end, I have heard from many parents how excited their child was to go on the computer and pick out whatever they wanted – and then wait for a package in the mail arriving FOR THEM.

To summarize, my friends, for less stressful birthday gift giving, have on hand: (1) computer with printer; (2) cheap box of generic birthday cards; (3) spool of gender-neutral ribbon; (4) bag of silly cheap toys. Lather, rinse, repeat. Thanks for reading!

P.S. I employed this tactic for a baby shower recently. So you see, folks, it’s not just for kids.

Sara is a wife and mother (of two very active little girls) from the Boston suburbs. She was, at one time, Jim’s first year legal writing instructor. These days, while Jim enjoys a career as a successful attorney, Sara (like Courtney) spends a little bit of her time lawyering and a whole lot of her time scraping dried play dough up off the floor. And, like Courtney, she wouldn’t have it any other way. Visit her blog at

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