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Monday, July 28, 2014

Birthday Presents and Toast

Ready to hear a story about my childhood? Okay. Here we go...

Once upon a time, back before Amazon wishlists and the internet were a thing, birthday presents were a very dangerous thing. Sometimes you got the really cool toy everyone knew about. Sometimes you got the toy everyone knew about but that you secretly hated. And sometimes, if you were very, very lucky, you got the cool thing no one knew about and that you'd never heard of, but it changed your life forever and it was amazing.

Now a days? Not so much.

My personal theory is that guessing what a person wanted was actually better for gift giving and relationships. It's sounds crazy, I know. Especially coming from someone who has an entire list of Very Awkward Birthday Presents in her past. But hear me out.

A wishlist is, in essence, a suggested shopping list and most people won't deviate from the list for fear of not getting the right thing. This isn't a bad idea for weddings and baby showers where the recipient may already own certain things you'd be inclined to buy. My problem with the wish list, and even the question, "What does your kid like?" is that it cuts off the creative process of present shopping.

Worse, if you buy someone something they already know they like, you are denying them the opportunity to discover something new. It means you'll never get the flawless, perfect present that you never knew you needed because you never knew it existed.

When I was a kid my presents from friends were always things my friends were interested in. This is how I was introduced to My Little Ponies, She-Ra, and Cabbage Patch dolls. It was also why I received a toaster for my fifth birthday from my neighbor, and I still think she is the most wonderful person in the world for giving me that toaster.

See, when I was five, we had no toaster. Toast was a special treat I only ate when we went out for breakfast or when I went to my neighbor's house (hi, Wayne!). Wayne's mom had a toaster. Wayne's mom would make me toast for snack after school. With butter on it, and jam. I thought it was the most wonderful thing in the world.

And she gave me a toaster for my birthday!!!

That toaster was still in my mom's house when I left for college. But, you know what? No one today would give a toaster because they loved toast. It wouldn't be on a wishlist.

When I was in high school my friend asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I said a book (obviously!), but I didn't have a wishlist and this was a school-only friend who never once saw my house. How was he to know what book to get me? He guessed. I remember him being terribly nervous when I unwrapped my book.

"Do you have that one yet?"

"No, but it looks cool." It was THE MIDSHIPMAN'S HOPE, a military sci-fi book with strong naval elements, faster-than-light travel, and shop gobbling aliens. I loved it! I'd never heard of the series and I never would have if a friend who knew I liked sci-fi hadn't given it to me.

So now it's July. Two of my children have birthdays this week. All I've heard for the past month is, "Do you have a wishlist? What do they want? What should I buy?"

For the most part I've said, "Let your kid pick something out." Because that's what I really want.

Bug doesn't need another LEGO set. Eldest doesn't need another glossary of Egyptian terms. They both need to have their horizons expanded a little. They need to find new things to love. New books to read. New toys to fire their imagination.

So, little informal poll in the comments section today: Are you pro wishlist or do you want people to surprise you with their gifts? 
State your reason if you have time to do so (I know it's Monday and you're busy). 


  1. I'm pro wishlist because I don't have a lot of space for things. I live in a small room in a roommate situation. I have my husband, my cat, and a handful of furniture. I've still got boxes piled up in my room because I have nowhere to put the things in them. I'm pro wishlist because I put e-books on them and ask my family to buy me e-books. Or gift cards, preferably Amazon or to the movie theater, so I can get what I want. If I wasn't in the situation I'm in now, I'd be anti-wishlist. I've always loved the surprise of getting interesting things from friends and family.

  2. Depends on the person who's planning on buying me something. Hubby has 3 brothers and only one of them picks out interesting items. So for him, no wishlist. For all the rest of my in-laws, they get a wishlist from me. My family isn't into gift giving any more. It's cash or a gift card from them when they give anything. My friends don't get a wishlist either because they can come up with interesting gifts.

    If someone gives me a wishlist for themselves, which few do, then I take it as a guideline and buy something similar but not precisely what's on the list. Everyone needs something unexpected in their lives.

    Of course, giving a wishlist doesn't mean it'll be followed anyway. Which is why we currently own two Enterprise pizza cutters.