Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Why my son's 1st birthday party will be his last: Birthday Entitlement and Materialism

My son just turned a year old in April. Yes, I went overboard and rented a covered picnic area in a local city park. I got him a few select gifts, one of them and a handmade bunting off Etsy. I ordered him the same teddy bear I've had my whole life, in a different color. I had custom ordered raw, vegan and gluten and soy free cakes. One was a fruit pie, and the other a chocolate raspberry cheesecake. My son had a cupcaked version blueberry cheesecake.

I had a nautical themed photo shoot, and found a local retired photographer who actually owned a sailboat. My baby shower, nursery were nautical themed, as was this birthday. We like to say Drakey has a "nautical themed life" . I liked the nautical theme because it is timeless, innocent, and we live in the SF Bay Area, water and sailing are a common sight.

I had an invitation designed, again on Etsy. I didn't send out one invite. I had one printed for my personal satisfaction.

Theodore. Isn't he Theo-dorable?
I only invited my son's other side of the family. His father, grandmother, aunt and her kids and husband. The grandma, aunt and one of the kids attended. I attempted to invite one other person, but it didn't manifest. It was a small, outdoor, gathering that I planned every detail of. Two birthday outfits for Mr One Year, my sisters kids each having an nautical themed outfit. We dressed the part too. He received a puppy because the neighbors had offered and we couldn't resist (turns out the puppy wasn't a great fit for our household because he was playful and nipped the children's toes, interrupted nap time and the last thing we really need is to co-sleep a pup and to clean up more poo. he was shortly placed with another family.) We made our own lemonade, kale chips, hummus, and so on.

It was all wonderful and enjoyable. The whole purpose of the party, was to bring Drake's family together, because there is separation and they  don't see him much .

Then we opened presents.

I asked the family for a nice feeding set, I had my eye on the thinkbaby stainless steel one.
 He received soft soled shoes, three wooden puzzles, a drum that included other instruments like maracas, an organic onesie and pant set, a stuffed lion, a nautical onesie, cardboard block set, bathtub basketball hoop, a wooden shape sorter, a book,  and a bathtub toy the gifts I got him, teddy bear, handmade taggy blanket with his name embroidered, a mp3 plush turtle, a xylophone push-walker toy, and an over sized tennis ball. These gifts were opened half at the park and half at home.

An unexpected friend showed up bearing two sets of polo style shirts and shorts and a really big cartooned pair of shoes.

Whoa, that's a lot of gifts, overwhelming really.

My concerns mainly stem from the extended family, we just do not have the same values. Although a $30 stuffed animal is nice, its not the best use of the funds and it is just another stuffed animal. I had to talk his father out of buying him a watch. I would be humiliated to have my one year old in public with a fashion acessory like a watch. At least he wouldn't be late for naptime, though! I really have to work on him not mentioning to the children when they are wearing certain brands, not putting importance on how they look and things of that nature.

 Simply, they are materialistic and we just never will be.

Maddox on his 1st Birthday

My nephew celebrated his first birthday with a balloon, a trip to the park and a homemade blackberry cobbler, his grandma's recipe.

How I envy the simplicity.

It's a great tradition, this year we may include some gifts, a tricycle and an art easel. The activity will vary in the years to come based on interest;  it's really a beautiful thing.

At Drake's birthday I was so busy hosting that I didn't have time to let him enjoy the park. Between the family leaving and unexpected guests showing up, I had to start all over, hosting again! Finally, I had enough. I demanded somebody watch that puppy, grabbed a boy on each hip and marched to the swing set. They had a ball. It was all they wanted to do, and all I wanted to see: smiling, happy kids. Nobody else got to witness the real birthday joy, it was just the three of us.

Its true what they say, the first birthday isn't for the child, it is for the parents. In my case the parents, and extended family, and mutual friends of my ex and I  who I hadn't seen in a while...

Weeks of planning, ordering, and organizing, just to put the kids on the swings and let the wind do the rest...

We learned a lot.

 Now there will be a one gift limit per family member. This will require that the gift be thoughtful, not last minute. (hopefully)

Clothing is not a gift, it's a necessity and we don't gift our children what is inherently their right to be provided. Fancy doesn't make clothing suddenly awe- inspiring. Kids don't care about clothes, and if they do, that's a terrible thing! They can like or pick their clothes, but brand names shouldn't matter to them and they should always prefer an activity or toy!
(For the record, Drake received ONLY clothing for Christmas, which only his dad's side celebrates, and a little piano I requested his father give him. None of it was even his size. Box after box of nothing that interested him except the tags and tissue paper... now that he fits it, its not seasonal and the only person who has enjoyed it was my nephew, for whom it wasn't exactly intended.)

Birthdays aren't a reason to rub elbows with people who aren't otherwise around.

Next year, we might plan an activity and invite the family to meet us, but there will be no party, no invitations, no decor, (well maybe balloons, our kids are big fans!) no appetizers, no waiting around or trying to make everyone happy and the birthday boy won't be subjected to rituals he doesn't care about.


Today while doing our return... there was a birthday boy at Toys R Us. Cute kid, red headed and age 7.  I talked with his mother who told me it was a hard time because of some things going on with his grandmother. She went on to tell me that she was just trying to make the best of it and " Spend the money."
I told him Happy Birthday, and he showed me his box of Lego's.
" $44.99! $44.99! $44.99! " he shouted with pride.
"And I get these too!" He showed me some comic book super hero trading cards.
"And I get to see 'The Avengers' tonight!"

It was all pretty Americana to me, boys and violent characterized merchandise, but it seemed like the money was the real gift here. The mother "going ahead and spending the money", I noticed she paid in check. Could this be spending money she doesn't have during a family crisis? I speculate. Regardless, the kid was more excited about the price than whatever object the Lego set was supposed to construct.

As we are leaving the store, they announce his birthday over the in-store intercom...
and as were loading our vehicle with kids and loot, I see him walking out of the store with a balloon in hand and a paper crown on his head. YES, a CROWN!

This little boy wanted everyone to know it was his birthday, he was boasting about the price of his gifts and it all seemed grotesque to me. I liked the kid, I really did, but I didn't like the messages and behaviors we were teaching him.

If birthdays mean you are royalty, host a kiddie social event, receive luxury clothing, thoughtless and numerous gifts, spending beyond means and require weeks of event planning... I'm out!
Worse, your still doing it when your an adult!

"How this happen to me?  ITS MY BIRTHDAY!" Adult birthday entitlement is the worst!

I literally had a friend of mine host a three day birthday celebration, which I attended two events of and the third night didn't go, so he invited me to a do-over... where I had to put my foot down and say hey, I have a child! You have got to be kidding me!

Drake's father recently had a case of birthday entitlement. It was planned far in advance that he would help 'babysit' on his birthday because my sister was going to see her favorite artist speak and paint, Alex Grey. She even gave her son the middle name Grey, and she hadn't been out by herself in years probably because of her young children. Big deal, really it was. My ex offered to loan her his car. Sweet. He shows up HOURS late, she had already left. When he arrives he has a new hat, necklace, shoes, shirt, pants, sunglasses, cell phone case, haircut, new CD... and when confronted about his tardiness he gives me the, "It's my birthday!" thing.


I can't wait to celebrate our kid's birthdays and watch them grow. I just won't be going the traditional route here, surprise! I have to be conscious of our choices and what we implement, I don't want to create lavish expectations, because I don't want to "just spend the money" if I don't have it. I don't want my child to know the prices, or brands or care. I want them to know we love them, spend time together and experience childhood bliss and excitement. There is nothing like the simple joys and I intend on preserving them.

Drake and Kagomae in the type of clothing I value!

written by B. Judgey


  1. Stopping by to say HI! from GFV Mom's blog hop post. We've got a lot in common!!

    Christina @

  2. I totally get how you feel! My husbands family doesn't always get how we have chosen to live our Eco-friendly non-materialistic life! I don't want dollar store toys that will fall apart in 5 minutes!!

  3. Agreed, sometimes we need to be reminded to step back, I know that I need to be reminded to stop and enjoy the simple things with my boys. :) Happy to be stopping by the blog hop tonight and AMEN to Good Girl Gone Greens comment about the dollar store. Gross plastic that falls apart. We have an addicted Grandma that frequents there. UGG
    Cindy :)

  4. Hey Christina! Thank you for sharing you blog with us, your photos are just beautiful! Maddox is allergic to gluten and soy so I am sure we can share some tips! I am glad to hear we have a lot in common. Check us out on facebook so we can keep in touch, and if you have a fb page for your blog we would 'like' also.

    We agree! Cheap toys are a waste and such a disappointment, it is much better to get a quailty gift that contributes to our children forming intrests.
    Thank you for stopping by Cindy and Good Girl Gone Green!

  5. My In-laws love language is gifts. SO my son, first birthday in April too, got way more toys then he could ever need. We said "no gifts" on the e-vite but still they came. Including a 3 foot tall stuffed animal... its bigger then him?!

  6. I really like this.
    We have struggled with birthdays.
    My husband took his first pay cut ever 5 weeks before our 1st son was born, and every year it has been worse. My second son turned 1 in May and we couldn't do anything but an applesauce carrot cake. he got a light up ball from my parents and nothing from us because we were stretching the bank just to get that cake (which he LOVED).
    We saved for months to get my oldest a gift for his 5th birthday...Legos that turn into 5 different designs. He LOVES it.
    Any way, I've had a lot of guilt over the minimal to non-existent birthdays we've had...but this puts it in a different light...thanks.