Elli just finished attending quite a run of birthday parties. The norm around here is for kids to have birthday parties at a business designed around hosting such things - generally 1.5 to 2 hours of 15 - 30 kids eating junk food and running around plastic indoor playgrounds like maniacs. At the end every kid is presented with a bagful of plastic toys, stickers and knickknacks (also known as junk) and sent home high on sugar and excitement. The price tag is pretty severe as the parents of the birthday kid end up tagged for $500 but they do end up with ~20 presents for their kid worth something like $20 each so they can count it as not overly expensive... if what they wanted to do with their $500 is buy a mountain of toys that surely will mostly be ignored. I hate it all!
I can't see the reasoning behind such a ridiculous explosion of spending for so little return. These kids are not desperate for a toy to play with so suddenly be inundated with them is going to mean that most of the gifts will be very nearly worthless to them - likely even a negative because they will clutter up their place for awhile until everyone is willing to trash them. The constant stream of birthday parties that children attend is incredible and to accept all the invitations is to be forever running to the store and buying gifts the recipient doesn't need but which must be given to avoid much ill will. What is just as bad is the waste that goes on to feed the kids at this event. Every bit of food served means another disposable plate and fork in the trash and every kid goes through 1-2 disposable cups. Napkins are pitched without ever being used and water is doled out in recyclable containers that mostly go straight into the dump too. Most of this is in the name of safety of course - anything that goes near a child is contaminated and must be thrown out right away to maintain the illusion that no passing on of germs can occur.
I think this is one of those situations where I really need to apply Ghandi's maxim of "Be the change you want to see in the world". Elli's parties so far have been small at home affairs with just 4 friends at most. Even then the number of presents all at once is too much for her to really appreciate; I can hardly imagine dealing with 8 times as much. We managed to serve pretty decent food and homemade cupcakes so we are doing well on that front but we did end up sending all the attendees home with a stack of princess themed accessories. I should probably just try to be realistic in that I have no chance of getting people to serve vegetables instead of cake nor any ability to prevent the tide of unneeded presents. I can try to have small events, serve good food and not give out junk to the kids as they leave without causing too much fuss though so I suspect that is the only real course available to me. I figure the kids may complain that they didn't get their customary loot bag but their parents are probably just as happy to not have to cart home and eventually get rid of my dollar store treasures.