Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth

Recently as I mindlessly trawled the internet for new inspirations and blogging ideas (oh who are we kidding, I was procrastinating and looking at videos of cats. Here’s a good one), I came across this interesting article. A little piece on a child’s birthday party, where a gift was flat out refused by the birthday boy’s mother because her son “Wouldn’t like it”. The present was a book, and apparently the little darling, who’s only achievement for deserving a party that day was to make it out of his mother’s vagina at a particular moment in time*, would really rather have something else. “He just doesn’t read books” was her smarmy response as she vaguely pointed to the direction of the shops. I personally can’t be more outraged. News articles, opinion pieces, and ranting on social media go on and on about the youth of today and how they have no manners. Yet we never seem to stop and reflect on the rudeness of adults. Perhaps it’s time we need to make a correlation between the two? In what world do you take a gift, not even unwrap it, then give it back immediately deeming it to be unsatisfactory, and on behalf of someone else!? Not to mention that you haven’t even let your own child make a decision for himself on his tastes, pleasures, and likes or dislikes, but to shove a gift back in the face of someone who took (at least a little) time and effort in buying it is just disgusting. What does that teach our children?

Look admittedly, we’ve all received gifts we either don’t need or don’t like. But a little bit of tact wouldn’t go unnoticed. “Thanks! Look, truthfully I’m not really a fan of books, but I’m looking forward to giving this one a go, because I can tell that you thought I would like it, and that means a lot.” Hmm, does that sound too saccharine? In any case it’s a hundred times better than “Nope, try again” whilst hurling it back in the giver’s face.

I’ll admit however that I too have been guilty of giving presents back, but only because we already had the exact same thing. I gave them back with the intention that the giver could get a refund, or pass it onto another child they knew. But even so, I stopped doing that because I felt bad about it. Now if we get a doubled-up present we accept it with a smile, and then probably stash away to give to charity, or even a replacement for when the original is destroyed (as is likely to happen in a house with a toddler). It’s still easy for the moment, as Stormaggedon is still young enough that he doesn’t really understand what he owns, what he doesn’t own and what he’s receiving. But now that he’s getting older he’ll begin making connections, and very soon will start to realise when he receives something he already has. Or worse, receives something he doesn’t like or want. Then it will be time to step in and help him to learn to be gracious, and how to react in a more dignified and polite manner.

But this article didn’t annoy me just for the antagonist’s attitude of refusing a gift. A throw away comment towards the beginning of the article mentioned the writer’s child going to a different birthday party, and coming back with the token “Party Bag” which contained AN IPAD! That’s right, an iPad. Seriously, is this what we’re doing now. Trying to outdo each other to the point of bankruptcy? “My kid’s party was so much better than your kid’s party, I got all his little friends their own iPhone and Playstation console to take home”. When the hell did a bag of lollies, a balloon and a plastic whistle go out of fashion!? Now admittedly, perhaps this party was held by a well-off and affluent family, who could afford to do such a thing. But I find this kind of blasé attitude frankly irksome. It reeks of privilege and a lack of understanding how the real world works for 99% of people. Parenting is already hard enough nowadays, yet I found myself (and I know others do too) constantly bowing to the pressure of trying to keep up with the Joneses. People who cook everything from scratch, and never give their children anything processed, purchasing the latest technology, taking their kids to music classes, gymnastic classes, and art summer school, family holidays spent further and further afield in exotic locations, hiring home tutors before they start prep just so they have “an edge” over the other kids. I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE!

Ok, so here are some very basic steps to follow:

Rule 1. Simple birthday parties. Go to the Reject Shop and by some streamers and balloons. I guarantee they’ll cost you no more than $5. NO IPADS.

Rule 2. Except any gift that is given with a smile and a thank you. If it’s for your child DON’T REFUSE IT ON THEIR BEHALF BEFORE THEY’VE EVEN SEEN IT! You know, unless it’s something offensive like a harpoon gun, or porn. If this is the case you have my permission to throw it back in their face, kick them out of your house and never speak to them again.

Rule 3. Everyone take a chill pill and stop competing with each other. You know what, your child might legitimately be better than mine. They may already know how to tie their shoes, dress themselves, sing the alphabet, and whistle Handel’s Messiah off by heart. That’s great, but I refuse to compete anymore. And I’d appreciate it if you didn’t look down on me in judgement just because I didn’t buy Stormy the latest and coolest running shoes to match everyone at Kindy.      

Rule 4. Be an example to your children. Show them how to treat others. Tell them to treat others the way they wish to be treated. Turn the next generation into beautiful, empathetic, giving, open hearted and charitable people. Because from what I keep getting told, the current generation is too self-centred to care.

Rule 5. Relax about whether your child is entertained or stimulated enough. You know what’s great? Playdoh, crayons, and a sandpit. Obviously not altogether. You don’t constantly have to look for activities to do. Stormy found my mental ramekins the other day and banged on them with a wooden spoon, declaring “what an interesting sound” they made. FOR AN HOUR! Toddlers are like cats, give them an empty box and they’re entertained for hours. Seriously, for the love of God, do yourself a favour and get off Pinterest!

Rule 6. NO IPADS AS PARTY GIFTS. I just can’t stress that enough.

*Note: OF COURSE I’m not against childrens’ birthday parties. They are a wonderful thing, and give us really beautiful moments. That is, when we’re not having to deal with tantrums, food poisoning, no one turning up, the cake being eaten by the dog before your kid could even blow out the candles, or that one annoying girl who decides she needs to fight the birthday boy for his party hat because SHE likes it more, and their grandmother makes everyone give in to her tantruming and gives her the party hat, thus inflating her self-congratulating narcissism (looks around furtively from side to side hoping no one works out who that was). I mean all I’m saying is, I did all the work, where’s my freaking party? Guess I’ll just enjoy that glass of wine sipped in the dark of an untidy kitchen hours after everyone is finally asleep. 

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Don’t ask, and maybe I’ll tell

Whenever people ask me when I’m going to have my next child, my immediate response tends to be to shout “Not until we take real action against climate change, and I know any further offspring will have enough food and water to live!” Apparently that tends to upset people, so usually my response is to just grin and say “Probably not till the end of the year”.

Ok, I admit, that shouting part was a lie. But it’s definitely what I shout in my head. It’s definitely something that I lay awake at night worrying about. And it’s definitely something that I am actually considering when I ask myself about when I want to have another child. The plan that my husband and I always had was to wait until the end of this year to start trying again. And by trying I merely mean “opening the vault”. For those of you playing at home, and haven’t read my previous entries, my son was conceived via IVF and we were lucky enough to have 3 extra embryos which are currently chilling in my fertility doctor’s freezer. I like to refer to them as “my children in the vault”. I usually do this in an Igor like accent and hunch. It really disturbs some people. I find it hilarious. Anyway, the logistics of having another child is actually quite convenient for us, so it will just come down to when we feel ready. Yet that “ready” feeling for me, just keeps travelling further and further into the future. For various reasons. Climate change and the uncertainty of the future is a big factor. Thanks to the latest elected US president, “Will we go to another World War, and this time will it be completely nuclear?” is usually my next worry. But knowing how much I struggled with Stormaggedon, the third worry is “Will I be strong enough to do it all again?”

But all of this pales in comparison to the worry and anxiety I feel of inevitably being asked the question by every man and his dog on when I’m going to expand the family. I’m sure all parents can understand. You might even be on your 7th child, and you’ll still get that curious well-meaning friend/neighbour/family member/random stranger on the train just casually dropping into conversation “So when’s the next one coming along?”

Just this weekend I was mingling with a new group of people and I inevitably brought up Stormaggedon. Because as a mother, I have nothing else to talk about in my life. Literally, nothing else to talk about. One lovely lady asked me how many children I had, and my response was “Just the one”. Without a beat her next question was “Plans for the second one yet?” WITHOUT. A. BEAT. I don’t even think the last syllable of my pervious answer had completely left my mouth by the time she was forming this next question. Now admittedly, I believe she only asked the question so she could get out her desperate “DON’T!” in response. Apart from her first child, she tells me her next three were all unplanned and life was a little “crazy” at the moment. I believe she thought she was doing a civic service by encouraging me to just quietly wade out of the gene pool, you know before the madness kicked in. We had a laugh about it, and went back to enjoying the array of chocolate that had been put on offer at this little get together.

Yet, I can’t help but feel a little out of sorts when people ask such personal questions. I know it’s a perfectly natural, curious and almost automatic question to ask. I’ve spoken about it before in a previous blog, but I felt it necessary to bring it up again. I think we’re all aware of how contentious the subject of having children can be. We all have that friend who is currently trying, or secretly trying, and really struggling. I was that friend. I have another friend who is now in the same boat as I was 4 years ago. But the idea of asking someone, badgering someone, about when they’re adding to their brood to me feels very invasive. Stormaggedon turns three this year, and I tell you it feels like a blink of an eye since we brought him home from the hospital. I know that “Now’s a good time to start trying again”, but I’ve only just found my feet with this first one. Can’t I enjoy him for a little bit longer? Can I just figure out what I’m doing for a little while longer before complicating the matter? Can’t I enjoy my rediscovered freedom for just a few more minutes? The water looks a little bit cold, can’t I just give it a minute before I jump back in?

So I’ll make you a deal, if you don’t ask me, then I won’t ask you. And maybe when I’m ready, I’ll let you know at the end of the year what I intend to do. Deal?