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In and Out of Favor

My husband thinks parents are constantly escalating in providing ever-more-elaborate birthday-party favors, and he calls for détente.

Parents have found various ways of handling the accumulation of presents and goodies with each party their child hosts or attends. Some have tried to minimize the damage—through thoughtful selection of favors, say. Some have opted out. Some have simply made their peace with the inevitable piles of gifts and candy.

My sister, who lives in Manlius, decided to skip the goodie bags this year for her 6-year-old twin sons’ laser tag party. “They buy candy and stuff with their tickets from the arcade,” she reasoned. Not to mention, she’s got three kids, she’s tired and she really didn’t need something else to assemble.

In my house? My son MacIntyre, who turned 12 in February, was inspired by a girl who skipped gifts in favor of donations to Central New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (CNYSPCA). So MacIntyre, similarly, asked his friends to forgo presents and instead make a donation to the Asian Rhino Project to honor his birthday. After the invitations went out, we went online and ordered wristlets: the rubbery bands with inspirational slogans. The party wristlets say, “I helped save the rhinos.”

But when I mentioned we weren’t doing goodie bags for his birthday, my son informed me: “Of course, we need goodie bags, Mom.” His 10-year-old sister agreed. I’d have been more disappointed about it except he and his sister, Annie, took care of the whole project.

We were shopping in Target one day and I asked Mac if he wanted his traditional “bouncy balls” for the goodie bags. Of course. (Why do I even ask these questions?) In the same aisle, his sister found sound weird, colorful gloopy stuff in individual plastic containers. I’m not sure what it is. They gathered up 15. Then we ambled on to the candy aisle and picked out two kinds. Then we grabbed some favor bags in the gift-wrap aisle.

This year I was busy when my son and daughter asked to assemble the goodie bags. Go for it, I said. And they did—without my help.

Some parents have managed to entirely forgo favors at birthday parties.

“I personally don’t do goodie bags,” says Pamela Weinberg of Syracuse, who has two sons, Elias, 6, and Miles, 3. “I know that whenever (my kids) get one at a party, I hate it. My kids don’t need any more candy.”

“I am sure I’m not the only parent who hates them,” she adds.

But she also asks parents not to bring gifts to her own kids’ parties. Instead, she asks her older son to pick a charity to support from those that are sponsored at his school, the Syracuse Hebrew Day School. At the most recent party, which was at CJ’s House of Bounce in Camillus, each child went home with a balloon anyway, she notes. But she also let parents know that the family was making a donation to the charity in place of party favors. It’s the same thing she and her husband did at their wedding. “It’s something that we’re familiar with and something that we like to do,” Weinberg says.

It’s also something she plans to continue with her kids and their parties. “After the party I have my son come with me to drop the donations off. Everybody is celebrating him. It really makes him feel good to do that,” Weinberg says.

Michelle Sloan of Oswego thinks goodie bags are fine. “My philosophy is it’s sort of like junk, but the kids love it,” says the mother of two. She tries to avoid the  plastic toys that her toddler tries to chew. For 2-year-old Amalia’s birthday party this year, the theme was Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Sloan’s mother found giant

coloring books featuring the characters at Ollie’s Bargain Outlet for about $2 each; a pack of crayons for each partygoer cost 18 cents. The kids loved these favors, too, and Sloan avoided the candy. For older kids, like her 17-year-old stepdaughter, Makaela, Sloan suggests bottles of nail polish, hair accessories, lip gloss and so forth.

My kids have received some clever party favors over the years. There was the water bottle filled with candy, stickers and a pencil; the pencil case filled with supplies; and the monogrammed sports bag with a real toy inside.

I appreciate the party favors that are made, painted or designed as an activity at the party. Younger kids have colored small brown-paper bags to hold the goodies; we did a pirate party where the kids decorated heavy cardboard treasure chests; and the kids have made clay statues and painted them at two parties (for pickup later). Another creative friend hand-paints holiday-themed party favors that we save to display every year.

My tip is to have a few extra goodie bags on hand for the end of each party. These are for siblings who tag along to pick up the lucky child who attended the party. Especially if the siblings-in-tow are younger, they really appreciate a bag of candy or an extra bouncy ball. And if no one needs the extras, well, no one minds eating the leftover candy.

Eileen Gilligan, an award-winning writer and mother of two, lives in Baldwinsville.


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