I know that Eleanor's birthday party was weeks ago, but I'm still thinking about a few of the kid-related party issues that come up every year. So indulge me, please, as I reflect on her party, and whether we want to do things differently next year.
So far, we've thrown pretty big parties for her. We invite family on both sides, lots of her friends and their parents, and some of our own friends as well. For Eleanor's 3rd birthday, there were almost 30 adults present, and 11 kids (all under the age of 5). We're always pretty excited that we've made it through another year, and we want to share that joy—and surprise—with our friends and family.
However, with inviting so many people, I always feel awkward about presents. There's a range of relationships represented, and I don't really feel that it's necessary for everyone to give her a present. Her grandparents always ask for ideas weeks in advance, and get her the best presents (better than ours, for sure). I'd never really bother telling them not to get her anything, because it would be fruitless. On the other hand, there's more casual acquaintances that we'd like to come and celebrate with us, but I wish there were a better/less awkward way to really convey to them, "We don't expect a gift. Honest. No one will be upset."
Every year, we put "No gifts required." on the Evite, but mostly it gets ignored. The other part of the problem is when people actually believe us. We have done the typical kid party sequence where everyone hangs out for an hour or so, chatting, grazing, playing, waiting for the majority of party attendees to show. (Although with kid parties and naptimes, I'm not really bothered if someone shows up more than an hour late.) When we think everyone's arrived, we gather together to light the candles, sing "Happy Birthday" and pass out the cake. Once everyone has their cake, then Eleanor opens her presents.
How do we not do this as a public spectacle? Because when we do, it can seem kind of awkward for those few brave souls who come without a present in hand, because we say "Don't worry about it!" on one hand, and on the other hand it seems like we're publicly calling them out for their lack of gift. I thought this year we would go around and open up presents in front of individual people so it was less public spectacle and more personal. That way everyone could see the reaction to her opening the gift (fingers crossed it's always good!), but by moving around hopefully there's not as much emphasis on the present-opening as show, so people aren't keeping track or feeling awkward about what they did or didn't bring.
Except, that didn't really work. I didn't really take into account that all of the presents would be in a pile right by her seat, and she just kept diving in. Plus other kids always love to help (I must point out, Eleanor is always that kid at others' parties, trying to rip the paper or pull out the tissue paper), so it was Eleanor and I plus various toddler helpers, and our group was not terribly mobile. So we still ended up sitting in front of the group, opening presents in front of all.
What do you do for kids' parties? Does everyone bring presents? Do you open them in front of all? As a guest, do you ever feel comfortable not bringing a present, even if specified on the invite?
I'm thinking next year might be the year to scale back a bit, and have Eleanor's first "friends" birthday party with just a few invitees. But, when the time gets close, I'm not sure if I'll be able to stick to that. So we might be confronting the situation all over again. Not to mention, we're doing it all over again in October!