No Gifts Please: Should Your Child Have a Gift-free Birthday?

When I wrote about Emme’s 3rd birthday and showed off the adorable invitation, you might have noticed that “No Gifts Please” was printed under the date and location information. Yep… We asked people to skip the gifts for our kid’s birthday.

Maybe that seems horribly mean? Here was my reasoning: My daughter is the only grandchild on one side of the family; one of three on the other side. I knew her grandparents and other close relatives would give her generous gifts, and from that alone, she would be receiving quite a bit of stuff for her birthday.

No gifts please

When the guest list for her party started to get a little out of control, I started to think about the added clutter and writing dozens of thank you notes. Based on my untrained medical opinion, my blood pressure began to rise. So I started to think about requesting no gifts.

As you can imagine, the first person I consulted for advice was the entire Internet. And like most things on the Internet, the people seemed divided. Some regarded a parent’s request for no birthday gifts as an affront — they seemed convinced it was a trick. Others were totally on board.

Since the Internet is typically not to be trusted, I asked my IRL mom friends for feedback. Everyone seemed to think it was totally fine. They reassured me that no one would be offended by a “no gifts” request. They also said that people would probably bring gifts anyway (they were right).

I went for it. And many people brought gifts. That’s OK. Some people didn’t. That’s OK too. The people who did bring gifts, brought smaller items. Some people skipped the gift, but brought Emme a small token — a mylar balloon or pack of stickers. Others took the time to write a sweet message in a birthday card.

And it was all good! We did get less stuff, which was the main goal. However, the decision to ask for no gifts did have some pitfalls. People weren’t totally sure if we really meant it (we did), and a good portion of the party goers apologized for either bringing a gift or not bringing a gift. It was definitely not my intention to put any kind of pressure on my friends and family.

So, based on my experience, here are a few tips if you decide to ask for “No Gifts Please.”

How to ask for no gifts please at a child's birthday party. Tips for parents who don't want guests to bring gifts to a child's birthday party.

Keep the message simple.

I thought about trying to get super cutesy with the request that guests not bring gifts (“Your presence is our present,” etc.), but ultimately clarity and simplicity won out.

Make sure you mean it, but don’t be crazy about it.

Some people will end up bringing gifts and some won’t. If the choice people make is going to bother you — either way — just don’t do it.

Don’t send mixed messages.

People will likely ask you if you’re sure about this “no gifts” thing. A friend asked me, and I almost launched into a whole, you don’t have to bring a gift, but you know, people might bring small stuff and you should do what you want. You know what that sounds like? That sounds like I expected small gifts, which are still gifts. And I didn’t. So I just said that I meant the request and not to worry about bringing a gift.

Keep any gifts out of sight.

Often at parties, the gift table is displayed front and center. But if you’re asking people not to bring gifts, displaying the gifts can make people feel uncomfortable if they didn’t bring one. We tucked gifts away under a picnic table, and I don’t think anyone gave it a second thought after they arrived.

Don’t open gifts at the party.

To be honest, I haven’t been to a kid’s party where gifts have been opened in front of guests since Emme was born. When you’re entertaining families with young children, making them sit through an extensive gift opening session can be tedious. But if you do typically open gifts at a party, don’t if you’ve asked for no gifts. That will make people think you weren’t serious about your request and make them feel bad if they followed your instructions.

Emme had plenty to open, and at 3, she wasn’t totally obsessed with the idea of getting tons and tons of gifts — though I imagine that was the last time this will be the case. I probably won’t do it again, but we’ll also probably be transitioning to parties that are more kid-focused that family and friends focused.

I Am Not a Perfectionist

I’ve always worn my lack of perfectionism like a badge of honor. I smugly assumed I had figured out a secret of adulthood by embracing imperfection.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t work hard or strive for 100 percent in some areas; it just means that I know it’s not realistic to reach for some vague bar that has been set for “life” in the age of Pinterest — that pinnacle of living that encompasses everything from having your kids dressed in the right clothing to preparing homemade, healthy meals each day to maintaining an impeccable physical appearance to excelling at a high-powered career while somehow keeping your house clean.

Nope. That’s not me.

I’m cool with imperfect.

At least, I thought I was.

Then last week, I found myself in a particularly ugly spiral of negative self-talk. I was in the midst of grappling with why I simply could not do anything right ever when I realized, I may not be a self-professed perfectionist, but that’s only because I know I can’t reach that bar.

But perfection is still my bar.

progress not perfection

I expect 100 percent across the board knowing it’s simply not possible then I beat myself up for not being able to do it. And when I inevitably fail (which I knew I would), I get even more down on myself and throw the so-called baby out with the bathwater.

Sometimes, I don’t even try. (What’s the point? Failure is inevitable.)

It becomes an excuse to avoid taking chances and putting myself out there. (Why bother, really?)

And a byproduct of this perfection-seeking habit is ultimately, I don’t believe in myself.

The one thing I’ve been trying to live up to these years is impossible, and I knew that. And yet, I’ve let this attitude of “Life: You’re Doing it Wrong,” get to me.

It was, dare I say, an epiphany. Last week, I deliberately set the bar where that I knew (thought? hoped?) I could reach it and maybe hang for awhile. I cut my daily to-do list down from about 20 items to three or four. I focused on racking up small wins (I did all my training runs! I wrote an article every day! I ran an errand I’d been putting off for 3 weeks! I managed to put dinner on the table a few times!) so I could bank them later as a reminder that I am capable even though I will fall behind sometimes, even when the goal isn’t perfection.

And I reminded myself that this is about progress.

Progress, not perfection.

Five Things To Know About Ellie

BY GENA KITTNER

We have passed T-minus one month and counting till New Baby’s arrival. And instead of thinking deeply about a birthing plan, I’ve concentrated on making arrangements for my oldest while my husband and I are doing the whole delivery thing. Grandma is scheduled to fly in plenty early, but being the obsessive planner that I am, I need back ups for my back ups.

photo (1)

So for any of my kind friends who find themselves caring for Ellie while John and I are otherwise indisposed, I’ve developed a “Five Things To Know About Ellie” list. I should warn you, it’s a bit graphic.

  1. The password to her iPad is EML1.
  2. She still needs a grown-up to wipe after going No. 2, and while doing No. 2, she’ll likely want her iPad. (See No. 1).
  3. She has no food or medical allergies we know of.
  4. She has no concept of time. If she asks, mommy and daddy will be back in an hour.
  5. Popsicles or popcorn solve most problems.

While accurate — and I hope potentially useful — this list was actually fun to put together. I encourage any parent to spend 5 minutes and think of five things a caregiver should know about their child. It’s a fun snapshot of pre-schooler life.


Gena is a Midwest transplant living in TucsoGena Kittnern, Arizona with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, Ellie. When not killing scorpions, Gena writes about food and family. Follow her on Twitter @genakittner, and check out her previous posts on Mommy Sanest.

Winter Isn’t Over Yet

I really had to work hard not to put a sad face emoticon in that headline.

If you live in Chicagoland, then you probably woke up Monday morning, looked out the window, and felt your heart sink. I mean, you heard that it was going to snow, but you didn’t think it would snow that much. And, after several days of spring-like weather and outdoor fun at the park and the zoo, what do you do with a young child when you’ve spent a long winter exhausting all your indoor play options?

You read my piece, 10 Unexpected Places to Take a Toddler on a Cold or Rainy Day, over at Pick Any Two, one of my favorite mom blogs out there!

If Caillou’s Mom was a Real Housewife of Beverly Hills

Disclaimer: Mommy Sanest is not a place for judgment of other moms, but we are making an exception for Real Housewives and cartoon characters.


By Sarah Berg

Caillou – it’s that show you let your toddler watch one time. You hated it, but your kid loved it, and now he’s always asking to watch it.

Like many aspects of parenting it’s time to weigh the pros and cons of the situation before making a decision.

Situation: Should I let my kid watch Caillou?

Making this call is kind of like deciding whether or not your kid should eat food off the floor. You know it’s bad, but is it really that bad?

My inner monologue goes something like this: Ugh… Cliff (my kid) is asking to watch Caillou. I hate that show. If he watches Caillou will he become as annoying as Caillou? That kid is so whiny. Plus, he’s always yelling at his sister. I don’t like that. Speaking of his sister, how old is she? They act like she’s 9 months, but she has the vocabulary and motor skills of a 2-year-old. It’s so confusing. Also, and I’m sorry, this is mean, but what’s up with his hair? I don’t understand the early onset male pattern balding. He’s 4 years old (I know because he says so in the opening song). Shouldn’t he have hair by now? I will feel bad if he has a genetic condition. Wait, why would I feel bad? He’s a cartoon! On the other hand, when I think about it, the show isn’t that bad. It’s not like there’s any violence. And I guess they try to tie in a lesson about sharing… and… I don’t know. One time Caillou learned he shouldn’t pretend to be a lion and scare babies. I guess those are all important lessons. Plus, Cliff is so engaged with the show. But first, let’s see if he notices me turning on Super Why instead. Oh crap, he’s screaming. I can’t take it! Okay decision made – he can watch Caillou.

Sigh.

I’m going to change gears. I am writing today not to bash Caillou – that’s been done. I’m actually writing to bash his parents, specifically his mother, Doris. And the reason I’m bashing her is because, frankly, I’m jealous of her life. And since I am also jealous of some of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills cast members and since season 5 is coming to a close, I couldn’t help but think about how Caillou’s mom has a little bit of RHOBH in her. Here are some similarities between Caillou’s mom and a few of the RHOBH cast members and how Doris would have handled some of the sticky situations we saw the real housewives get themselves into this season.

If Caillou's Mom was a Real Housewife of Beverly Hills

Yolanda

Both Yolanda and Doris have nailed down that “work-life balance” myth we’re all aiming to achieve. Between tending to 500 lemon trees and maintaining a perfectly fresh see-through fridge, Yolanda also manages to help pack her kids up for college, schedule an easy-on-the-eyes yoga instructor for a private lesson, and take a ton of vitamins for her Lyme disease every single day. Meanwhile, Doris has the ability to drown out all the noise around her and focus. She never misses a chance to improve her yoga practice, even when her crazy 4-year-old Caillou has an electric train set going in circles around her. Doris didn’t even notice when Caillou broke the train. (Spoiler alert: He realized he should admit his mistake and confess.) All of this happened while Doris was juicing kale and beets, obviously.

But the biggest thing Yolanda and Doris have in common is their relationships with their spouses. Sure, Yolanda always says, “Hey ladies, my life is not perfect. Let’s be real friends, not ‘Hollywood friends.’” But let’s face it, only the perfect side of her marriage to David Foster is ever shown (even though that one time he was kind of a dick to Taylor Armstrong… “You used to be married to my best friend! Stop acting like you never met me!”). Sure, I wish Yolanda would tone down the sexual references, “Oh we were away on vacation, doing what lovers do.” I didn’t need to know that. Regardless, it seems to me like David and Yolanda handle parenting much like Caillou’s mom and dad — meaning, they will not let their children come between their relationship, and by relationship, I’m talking about their physical relationship.

Remember that episode when Caillou was afraid of monsters and he wanted to sleep in his parents bed, and they were all, “No way”? You know there was a real co-parenting discussion that went into that decision far in advance. They seem like the type of couple that anticipates everything and annoyingly communicates well.

The conversation probably went something like this:

Caillou’s dad: Hi there Doris. Can we take a moment to talk about our relationship and how having children has impacted our intimacy and ways that we can combat that problem as a cohesive parenting unit?

Caillou’s mom: Why sure hon. I’ll make some hot cocoa. Then let’s sit down and have a rational, adult discussion.

5 minutes later
Caillou’s mom: Here you go dear. It’s hot, so make sure you blow on it first. (Wink.)

Caillou’s dad: Wow, this hot cocoa is out of this world.

Caillou’s mom: Slow down there big guy. We have a lot to discuss. First of all, since having Caillou and Rosie, I know there aren’t as many opportunities to be intimate with each other as we’d both like. And sure, I’ve been a little self conscious about my body since I did just give birth to Rosie anywhere from nine months to two years ago. Having said that, I’m starting to incorporate yoga and ringette into my daily routine. Sure, this means I tell the kids I’m ‘busy’ whenever they ask me to play, but we both know how important it is to balance ‘work’ and ‘life’. Without that balance, I fear our intimacy will suffer.

Caillou’s dad: That’s a fantastic observation. First let me say that I am so proud of you for being able to take time out for yourself and for being a loving mother and wife. Your body looks amazing. I hope some day in the future you believe me and take off your shirt while we’re making love. [Dorris nods yes.] But let’s not focus on what we don’t have and let’s focus on what we do have and what we can do as a cohesive parenting unit to benefit our relationship and ultimately our entire family.

Caillou’s mom: Of course dear. What did you have in mind?

Caillou’s dad: I propose we implement a structure around bedtime that disallows the kids to sleep in our bed. The bed is a sacred space that is meant for our intimate relations and sleep. If Caillou ever fears there are ‘monsters’ under his bed and asks to sleep with us we should agree to tell him there ‘isn’t enough room,’ even though we did just buy that California king.

Caillou’s mom: That’s a fantastic idea. I fully support this.

End scene.

Kyle

Both Kyle and Doris will do anything to maintain respect from their children — which means they will not eat space cake on camera. If Doris was given space cake and called out by Brandi for previously smokin’ a doobie, she would have handled it almost the same as Kyle. Except for the fact that she would have lied through gritted teeth. Here’s how that would have gone:

Brandi: Doris, I don’t understand why you’re acting like you’ve never smoked pot. I know you’ve done it. In fact, the last time I smoked weed was with you.

Caillou’s mom (smiling so hard her eyes are about to pop out): Why, that’s a funny thing to say, Brandi. We smoked pot together? How could that be? I don’t usually prep my garden until April. The soil just isn’t ready. And if I had potted something in advance, how would I have smoked it? Do you mean set the weeds in the garden on fire? That actually sounds like a really interesting way to solve my pesky weed problem.

Brandi: Don’t play coy with me. You’re such a hypocrite. You know you smoked the reefer with me. Stop pretending to be something you’re not. You’re not perfect! I’m sick of being called a liar and an alcoholic when you’re just as bad!

Caillou’s mom: Okay Brandi, let’s take a deep breath. When you refer to ‘reefer,’ are you talking about my Australian honeymoon when the hubs and I visited the Great Barrier Reef? I don’t recall seeing you there, but it was an awful long time ago. Either way, I’m sorry you’re upset Brandi. Sometimes we have feelings of happiness and sometimes we have feelings of sadness and sometimes we have feelings of anger. These feelings are a normal part of life.

End scene.

Eileen

Since this was her first season I don’t know a ton about her. Her story was centered on the drama of other people, but I am excited to learn more about Eileen. I find her fascinating. The same goes for Caillou’s mom. She’s a mystery.

What do we really know about Doris? I actually had to Google, “What is Caillou’s mom’s name”? (P.S. His dad’s name is Boris.) I’m also unclear if Doris works. She occasionally has a “business call” at home. Since I’m pretty sure they don’t live in the U.S., maybe she’s still on a fully paid maternity leave? Maybe she has a flexible work from home job? Perhaps she’s in the direct sales business for Avon or Stella & Dot? Speaking of jobs, we all know that Eileen is an actress by trade – like a real actress (no offense Kim and Kyle) – and we all know that Doris does a lot of acting on a daily basis, considering she’s able to always keep her cool when faced with parenting a dilemma. And by dilemma, I mean her annoying kid.

Lisa V.

Lisa is English; Doris is Canadian. They both like to announce this to everyone. Sure, I’ve never actually heard Doris say she’s Canadian, but they did dedicate an entire episode to her days of playing ringette. That’s Canadian, right? Anyway, Lisa runs a tight ship at home with her family of 10,000 puppies, plus she’s manages a psychiatric hospital named SUR, which proves that she and Doris are basically the same person. Forgive the Vanderpump Rules crossover, but remember that time Lisa tried to convince Stassi to forgive Katie because she’s been “such a loyal friend over the years” and really, she did nothing wrong by going to Scheana’s bachelorette party? That situation is right out of a Caillou storyboard and Doris would have handled it almost the same as Lisa.

Caillou’s mom: Now Stassi, I hear you’re feeling some anger towards Katie for not telling you she was going to Scheana’s bachelorette party.

Stassi: Damn right I’m angry. She’s just like the rest of them. I hate her now. I hope Kristen hooks up with Tom Schwartz so Katie can understand a quarter of the betrayal I’m feeling. Once confirmation of hook-up is attained via Twitter or Insta, I’ll take a red eye to Miami and Uber it to Miami’s state run correctional facility where I will find an inmate willing to trade me some used improvised tattooing equipment – preferably in the form of a mechanical pencil and melted styrofoam – for cigarettes. Then I’ll Uber it to the bachelorette party, sedate Katie with a shot of Jagermeister laced with Xanax and Klonopin so I can easily tattoo KARMA’S A BITCH on her forehead. Wait, is Uber allowed at MIA?

Caillou’s mom: Let’s slow down a minute, Stassi. I understand you’re hurt, but that doesn’t mean using hurtful words will make you feel better. In the end it will just cause even more hurt. And to answer your question, Uber has not been banned from Miami International Airport, to my knowledge.

Stassi yawns: Can I get a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and some fried goat cheese balls?

Caillou’s mom disregards request: Why I’d be happy to make you some hot cocoa. I’ll be right back.

5 minutes later
Caillou’s mom: Here you go. You know, this reminds me of the time my son, Caillou, had his first sleepover at Leo’s house. He was sad and lonely and wanted to come home. But then he realized his teddy bear, Teddy, was in his overnight bag and then he felt better.

Stassi: What does that story have to do with anything?

Caillou’s mom: I think you should apologize to Katie.

Stassi: Look Doris, I know you like being in control of everything, but I no longer work here and I don’t have to listen to you.

Caillou’s mom: I know it’s hard to believe but sometimes the person we’re really mad at is ourselves. That’s not always an easy thing to admit. Sigh. Katie will understand if you call her and say you’re sorry.

Stassi: You’re right, I am sorry.

Caillou’s mom: I’m proud of you, Sta-.

Stassi interrupts: Sorry I didn’t plant a bomb inside Scheana’s penis necklace before they left.

End scene.

Lisa R.

Call her a people pleaser if you want, but at the end of the day Lisa Rinna is able to find the best in everyone (for example, telling Kim she has a beautiful heart less than 48 hours after Kim going crazy on her). To be candid – I love Rinna and she can do no wrong in my eyes, even if that means defending her wine throwing, glass shattering behavior to my 25-year-old co-workers who don’t get her hair and lips. Well I get her hair and her lips, and I will continue to stand up for her, at least until she becomes a mega-diva in her second season like they all do.

Speaking of defending, I’m not a super fan of Doris, but if push comes to shove, meaning if literally someone pushed me so hard it was considered a violent shove, held a knife to my throat and yelled, “You have a choice to make! Either sincerely say five nice things about Caillou’s mom or die,” I would think “WWLRD” and come up with five nice things.

  1. Much like Lisa R, Doris can find the best in everyone. I mean she’s Caillou’s mom and therefore has the patience of a saint. I don’t know what cocktail of happy pills she has to take to get through the day, but whatever it is, it’s working.
  2. She’s always exercising or gardening or doing something for herself and doesn’t apologize for it – bravo Doris!
  3. I don’t think I have ever heard her yell at her husband and she laughs at his terrible jokes.
  4. She cooks three meals a day. I have yet to see a “fend for yourself night” at their house or the kids plopped down eating pizza in front of the TV.
  5. I like her blue Ked-like shoes.

Kim and Brandi were left off this list because I could not not think of one similarity between them and Caillou’s mom and since I hold myself to high journalistic standards, including them would not have been right.

Now that you’ve reached the end of this 3,000 word essay about Caillou’s mom and RHOBH — first of all congrats — you might be wondering, “What’s the point?” Well, child psychologists say… who am I kidding, there isn’t a point, but the next time you’re guilted into watching Caillou I hope that remembering this epic blog post makes it slightly more enjoyable.

Namaste.


Sarah Berg is Lou’s sister. She’s a longtime fan of the Real Housewives, while her 2-year-old son, Cliff, loves Caillou.