I hate buying presents for birthday parties

When we got four invitations within two days, I knew it was coming. I could feel its sticky icing-fingered clutches: birthday party season.

Parties are a great way to entertain — and wear out — your kids on the weekend, and sometimes there’s a handful of cheesies in it for the parents. But first there’s the business of buying a present for the birthday boy or girl … and it’s awful.

I used to enjoy shopping for a lot of kids’ birthday parties because we had an awesome, independent toy store just minutes from our house. We knew the owner and his staff, they carried high-quality toys, games and art supplies, and we happily dropped a lot of money there because it was locally owned.

After it closed, gift shopping for birthday parties became a chore. This past weekend, I put on my big-girl panties and admitted defeat: we had to go to the big-box store — and on a busy Saturday, no less.

Two children, two adults and four different birthday parties to shop for. It shouldn’t have taken us close to an hour, but that’s what happens when you have four people looking in four different toy aisles at all times.

It didn’t help that every single gift someone suggested was wrong, in one way or another.

“No way! That Lego set is $60 … Well, then ask for it for your birthday.”

“I can’t believe this costs $30. It looks like it’s from the Dollar Store.”

“How do you know she even likes that show?”

“No, two blind bags are not a present!” (“No, neither are Mash’ems!”)

“That toy is for babies, not big kids … No, they really don’t want a toddler toy. Trust me.”

“I know he likes Pokemon Go! Why can’t we find a #$%& Pokemon Go thing in this #$%& store?!” (That one was me.)

“No, I’m sure he’s far too young to have seen Star Wars, let alone want an action figure of whoever that is.”

“We’re not getting them a zombie toy! What if it scares them?!”

There were three main issues that kept preventing me from pulling the purchasing trigger: if a toy was the right price (not too cheap, not too expensive), if it was something we knew they liked or were interested in, and if it was a present their parents wouldn’t hate (a.k.a. not an annoying/offensive item or another piece of junk taking up space).

I just kept looking at everything and feeling discouraged. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’ve been shopping for — and attending — kids’ birthday parties for nearly seven years now, but I feel like everyone just has so much stuff. So many toys! So many games! So many books! It’s overwhelming …

It also feels like so many categories are too difficult to even bother with these days. Who knows what movies the kid already has, or even which ones they’re allowed to see? Most kids have stacks of books at home, so what are the odds of picking out a few they don’t have but will actually read and enjoy? If your family owns a Pieface board game, does that mean most families probably have it by now?

(It’s almost enough to make me wish we registered for kids’ birthday gifts. Not because I think they should demand outlandish presents, but because I’d much rather spend $20 on a specific toy they really want, rather than flush $20 on a toy they’re never going to use.)

Sometimes you’ll nail it and find exactly the right gift — something that’s in the perfect price range, exactly what the child really likes, and appreciated by their parents because it keeps them quiet and happy. It’s awesome when that happens and you can usually spot the one or two “nailed-it” gifts at any kid’s birthday party.
But most of the time, it just feels like settling.

Getting the toy that’s $35 marked down to $18 because it feels like you’re giving a more expensive present, even if you’re not sure the kid is going to like it. Guessing at their interests. Digging in your closet’s secret gift stash and then half-heartedly wrapping up something that hopefully looks like it didn’t come out of your closet 30 minutes before the party.

I know it doesn’t have to be that way, but even the gift alternatives aren’t always an easy choice.

I think sometimes about giving movie money or a gift certificate for a store, but my kids would think it’s a “boring” thing to give to their friend. It lacks the excitement of opening a shiny new toy.

Candy and gum are always a big hit with kids, but annoying for the parents because they likely have to take it and be responsible for doling it out.

I’ve only given cash when I knew the birthday boy or girl was specifically saving up for something. It seems tacky, but … everybody likes cash!

I love the idea of having guests donate $5 or $10 to a specific charity instead of bringing a gift, but would my kids be cool with that? Not likely. They are almost-five and almost-seven and they love getting presents. So do their friends.

I haven’t figured out a good alternative yet, and so … I settle.

I buy the “good toys” when they go on sale and stick them in my closet. I buy the cheap-looking-but-still-$20 action figure that my kids insist is a good gift. I buy the two-for-one bracelet-making kits that their parents will curse — I’m sorry! — because it seems better than any of the other stuff I look at.

All the while, I’m counting down to tween-hood when it’s going to be perfectly acceptable to gift a card with some cash . . . and maybe candy, too!

So what do you think?

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