I have only two kids in elementary school, but between them they’ve gone to a couple dozen birthday parties so far. When the other three are in school—-whooooo, that’s a lot of parties to bring gifts to.
My goal is to spend about $10 for a party gift, and I can get a pretty good gift for that, even though I’m a somewhat fretful person and so my mission is complicated by my wishes to please the child and to please the child’s parents; to give a gift that won’t make a huge mess or end up with little tiny pieces lost all over the house or require intense parental involvement; to avoid sending the message that we watch too much TV and/or that we make inappropriate gender generalizations and/or that we are cheap cheap cheap. Ideally, I like the gift to be the child’s favorite present from the whole party, but also to send the message that we are a Quality Family. And did I already say I want all that for about $10?
Here are some gifts that have been pleasing successes:
My parents bought the Rubik’s Magic to entertain 8-year-old William and 10-year-old Rob on car trips, and it’s been an enormous hit for every car trip since. It’s one of those weird puzzles where you bend it in ways that seem impossible: how can it be BENDING there when it wasn’t ATTACHED there a minute ago? Super fun, and hard for anyone to put down.
Several years ago I was out doing errands with Rob and William, and we saw this 20Q (Twenty Questions) thing. I let them try to make it guess something, just to show them it wouldn’t be able to guess anything that wasn’t, like, a noun from an Easy Reader (ball, sun, cow). But it DID guess it. (We were thinking of a flashlight.) Then it guessed the next thing we were thinking of (a camera).
This is so unlike me, but I put it in the cart and I bought it at full price, and it was totally worth it: we all played the heck out of it for weeks. Eventually the kids were trying to make it guess “butt” and “poop” and “snot,” of course, but until then it was really great. I usually tape replacement batteries to the package, in case the batteries get worn out while the toy is still AT the party.
I got a free sample of Model Magic in a kid’s meal at a fast food place, I think. I can’t quite remember WHERE I got it, but I do remember WHEN, because I took it home and used it to make a First Christmas ornament out of my firstborn baby’s footprint. So this was, like, nearly 10 years ago. I immediately liked the stuff, and have bought many a container since then for my secondborn, who goes through it at a steady rate.
I don’t think it would be overstating it to say I HATE games. Either they’re LAME and boring, or else they’re ENDLESS and boring, or else they’re FRUSTRATING and boring, or else they’re some MAGICAL COMBINATION of those things. And yet, when Rob brought the SET game home from school, I was willing to play it and play it and play it. I’d still be willing, even now—go ahead, ask me! What’s awesome about it is that it’s a game adults and children can play together without the either group feeling like ending it all (Candy Land, I am looking in your direction).