Tag Archives: gifts

The “ick” factor

There was an episode of Sex and the City, I’m sure, with this title. Yep, I just Googled it, there was, but it had nothing to do with what I’m about to write about so I’ll stop there.

Several things this week have left me with an icky feeling….

A Christmas gift arrived from my parents. A case of wine. My heart sank for several reasons when I saw it. We bought them wine for Christmas, so there’s the obvious, ironic futility of buying each other essentially the same gift. Only it’s not the same gift. We bought them a gift pack of 4 wines from our favourite winery (Amisfield, FYI). We love their wines. My parents love their wine. In fact, they love any wine. And therein lies the problem.

I felt, even thought it was just wine, it was a reasonably thoughtful gift from us. I was raving to them when they came to stay about this Amisfield [no this is not a sponsored post, are you serious?] how we go there every time we are in Queenstown, how we joined their wine club, how amazing the food there is, how great they are with the kids…. And I thought buying Mum and Dad some (nice) wine might share a bit of that experience with them.

I’m not sure when we became such wine…. Connoisseurs? Snobs? Enthusiasts, perhaps, is the nicest way of putting it, but we like to drink nice wine. Not lots of it, just a glass in the evening, and we would almost NEVER get through a whole bottle between the two of us in one sitting and so we feel we can afford to pay a little more for our wine. Sure, there are the cheap and cheerful bottles you buy for a mid-week drink, or to have at a larger gathering where you might not get much of a look-in, but as a gift or for a special occasion, or even just for a weekend dinner, we like to splash out a bit.

Which is why I chose the smaller selection of pricier wines from a winery we love that means something to us, instead of just ordering a mixed case of sub $20/bottle wines to be delivered from a distributor down the road. I’d like to add it’s NOT about the money. At all. I wouldn’t actually have cared that much if they’d got us nothing. And I am glad they didn’t get us crap to clutter up the house.

It’s just the fact that, even after spending 10 days with us drinking our wine (not to mention all the other occasions we’ve taken wine along to dinners etc and they’ve commented “Oh, this is nice!” they seem to be so totally disconnected with what our interests and the smaller details of our existence really are. Did they not notice we don’t usually choose to drink $13 bottles of wine? Again, not about the money. That we generally choose Central Otago Pinot Noir, not Marlborough? Maybe they thought they’d diversify our tastes. That if we want a cheap mixed case we’ll buy our own? Actually, no, they didn’t notice that we don’t buy cheap mixed cases at all. Maybe they found it hard to justify the delivery cost for less than a case but found a case of nicer wine too pricey? I faced the same dilemma myself and just forked out the $50 shipping fee because I wanted to get them something nice but blowed if I was going to buy them $400 worth of wine!

Anywyay, as Mr L pointed out, we should try it first before we (I) get too carried away. And, as I pointed out, we can always save it and give it to them next time they come to visit.

Note to self, next time, just have a ready list of presents they can get us when they ask. One thing my sister seems to have down pat.

Facebook misunderstanding On a completely different note, on the same day, a friend took offence to something I said on Facebook. I was aiming for dry humour, he interpreted it as grumpy confrontationalism. (Is there such a word? Spellcheck seems to think not, but then again it can’t spell organise either.) Which just got me to thinking (again) what a waste of time FB can be.

Other things have made me re-think FB lately- some of my sister’s inappropriate postings, how much time I waste reading articles and blog links. I got full marks on a quiz the other day called “Do you know your plurals?”… like, duh, I did Latin and am a grammar Nazi. Of course I do!

It has its uses of course (FB, not the quiz, or Latin). For example I follow some vaguely useful pages such as the NZ Herald, so now have a clue about what’s going on in the world (see below). Some of the stuff people post is useful and interesting. But I think I have to reintroduce some ground rules, like limiting my hours and posts and culling (again) people who frequently seem to post time-wasters.

Anyway, back to my friend. He’d sent me a message saying “That was a bit odd…”, implying that he was offended by my comment, so I apologised, tried to explain what I’d been meaning to say, then when I went to delete my comment, he’d already removed it so I figured he really MUST have been offended. So I apologised some more. I think he felt a bit foolish as there then came an olive branch of a message by way of “Oh maybe I was just being grumpy, so how’s everything anyway?” No major damage done but it made me think how much of my time am I wasting thinking up witty retorts to other people’s inane comments when I could be doing something way more useful and avoid offending anyone?

Anyway in the grand scheme of things (and the grand scheme this week has included a Taliban massacre of school kids and teachers in Pakistan and the death of a 38 year old mother of 3 in Sydney in a hostage situation in a CBD café- she was the year behind me at school and the thought of her 3 kids spending Christmas next week- not to mention the rest of their lives- without their Mum brings tears to my eyes every time I think of it) these are not big issues.

But I think we’ll all be glad of a break over Xmas and I personally am very much looking forward to 2015.

Branding

I never thought too hard about why I objected to branding when it came to kids’ stuff. I just found something about it instinctively inappropriate. I could never really understand people who declared: “Oh my child loves The Wiggles/Hi Five/Peppa Pig” (for the record I actually do quite like Peppa Pig but that’s another story.) I mean, as the parent surely you are the one who determines what your child is exposed to? I realise once they start school it’s a slightly different story, but I knew for a fact that MY child would NOT love “The Wiggles” because I find them intensely irritating and would therefore not let him watch them. (So far, so good). One of the mothers in my mothers group (she actually left after a couple of months but we stayed Facebook friends) declared that, at 6 months old, her daughter could say “Dora”. My first thought was “Yeah right!” and my second was “How tragic”.

I’ve always consciously tried to avoid branded toys. We accidentally ended up with a Thomas engine, which Master L refers to as “Thomas” because it took us months to notice the names of the vehicles were written on the bottom and this green engine’s name is, apparently, Luke. So we got that wrong, but who cares? I’ve always avoided branded clothes, cartoon-character and action-hero pyjamas (which is quite difficult actually), I guess because I didn’t like the idea of “forcing” my child to become a fan of something specific, preferring him to form an interest in trucks/animals/planes in their own right.

And so various scenarios have popped up over the years which have reinforced my aversion to branding and allowed me to articulate some of my specific objections

  1. Cost- When shopping for Lego for my (now 10 year old) nephew, I was shocked to see that plain-old use-your-imagination-and-build-your-own-thing Lego was half the price of Harry Potter/Barbie/Star Wars Lego. Some of the parts for the Thomas and Friends train set cost $100!!! Crazy- $100 for a kid’s toy which you can’t even use in isolation!
  2. Duplication- Identifying something with a brand encourages buying more stuff and duplicating kids’ belongings. In the last couple of weeks I have started thinking about Christmas presents for my little nephews. I liked last year’s strategy of giving experiences rather than stuff, but circumstances have made that much harder this year. So I asked my sister-in-law what she might want for her kids (who have so many toys they literally don’t know what to do with them). She told me “Any of the Thomas and Friends wooden railway set, or any Postman Pat or Fireman Sam stuff.” Now, I don’t have a particular problem with Postman Pat, I actually quite like Fireman Sam (Mr L’s first language is Welsh and so we have the Welsh-language version Fireman Sam DVDs, which helps me justify letting Master L watch them considerably) and, as it happens, I can’t stand Thomas, but it wasn’t my opinion of the particular TV shows that influenced my reaction. Whatever happened to kids having “a fire engine” or “a train set” (which Master L does, in fact, have)? Why do kids now have to have the Thomas train set AND the Chuggington train set, or Postman Pat’s van AND Fireman Sam’s jeep?? My 10 year old nephew now has millions of Lego bits and pieces because he has about 20 different Star Wars Lego models. Sadly, I’m not sure if his brain or the Lego is adaptable enough to build something non-Star Wars with the millions of bricks he has, or if he has even thought to try.
  3. Fashion status- And apart from the cost and the needless duplication of plastic and metal bits and pieces which seems to be a way of life now in our throw-away society, the branding of kids’ toys promotes a sense of fashion status very early on. I know Master L, at almost 3, is too young to be aware of this, but I bet by the time he turns 4 and certainly by the time he turns 5, he will be aware that other kids have the Thomas train set and he has the generic version and that there will be status associated with that. Having said that, I know that as a 7 year old, I always felt slightly envious of kids who had Barbie dolls and all the Barbie paraphernalia that went with it. Even with my slightly less cool Sindy doll, I almost never got the “proper” Sindy clothes for her to wear, I had to make do with the £2 version from the town market. And my friend who had a plastic doll she used to call her Sindy doll would receive scornful comments at school such as “That’s not a proper Sindy doll” (including from me). I do recall a certain sense of missing out from not having the brand-named versions of most things, although on the rare occasion we were given something “proper” (like the My Little Ponies from my uncle), I realized pretty quickly they were actually fairly boring. I don’t want to be the clichéd, uncool, crochet-wearing mother who says “Just because everyone else has it doesn’t mean you have to have it too” but by the same token, I like the fact that I’m now not really a brand-name kind of person. I don’t buy designer (very often) and if I do, it’s because it’s the best one I can find and I can justify the expense rather than simply because a specific person has lent their name to it.

So, for now, we will continue to avoid Thomas and Postman Pat and I will no doubt read this post in a couple of years and smile at my idealism. Next week for his birthday, Master L will receive a mini soccer goal post set and some yellow diggers. All wrapped in Lightning McQueen wrapping paper.

Moving away from Christmas “stuff”

I read this awesome article recently- The Gift of Not Giving a Thing. It summed up many of the themes and ideals I’ve been thinking about a lot since my daughter was born 6 months ago.

I’m not sure why her birth triggered this way of thinking. I suspect the upheaval and the change in dynamic that comes with the arrival of a new family member subconsciously prompted a re-evaluation of what’s important. Not just in a conceptual way but also from a practical point of view. You have stuff arriving by the armful if you’ve just had a baby girl when you already have a boy. “Whatever will she wear?!?!” Not only does this little creature seem to outgrow a size of baby clothes every month but she must apparently wear pink and you only have blue!! (Actually I had white and grey, baby number 1’s early clothes were all very unisex as we didn’t know what we were having the first time round- perfect for handing down to a baby sister, or so I thought, but our friends and relatives seemed to have other ideas and went shopping all over again- in pink and purple.)

When Master L was a baby, I remember spending time looking through his clothes, moving the things he’d outgrown to the “too small” box with mixed feelings of loss (he’ll never fit into a 000 again!) but also excitement that he was gaining weight, getting bigger and stronger and more interactive (and therefore more interesting) with every 0 he dropped. Plus there was a whole wardrobe-full of fresh, never worn, bigger sizes to be tried on. With Miss L (her older brother now an inquisitive toddler) I had significantly fewer opportunities to be sorting through all this stuff, clearing it out, keeping it tidy etc and so the extra stuff actually became work, not just an unnecessary luxury. Not to mention the space issue.

So after Miss L’s birth, I became quite interested in minimalism. A passionate de-clutterer already, I was still constantly amazed at the amount of STUFF we somehow accumulate, how little of it we use and, when we go away on holidays, how little I miss it and how much simpler life seems to be. My preoccupation with “organising” blogs gave way to a new passion for “minimalist” blogs. The best thing is, you don’t feel bad erasing them from your bookmarks bar when you’ve got the gist of their message- it’s decluttering!

I have friends and relatives who are major clutter-bugs. Some have small houses, a bit too much stuff and are just a bit messy, but can clear up when necessary. Others live in houses where you can hardly move for all the stuff and when you do, you tread on something or knock something else over. When I visit these people I indulge in de-cluttering fantasies. I imagine going through their houses with sturdy garbage bags, and THROWING STUFF OUT… shopper dockets, junk mail, old magazines, expired food from the fridge, worn-out towels, dishes whose patterns have been washed off over the years. Chipped mugs and glasses, little plastic bits and bobs from the kids’ board games. Paper clips and elastic bands, mismatching plates and bowls, plastic takeaway containers spewing from the kitchen cupboards. The almost-empty bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body scrubs, moisturisers from the bathroom! GET RID OF IT… ALL OF IT.

Anyway, I digress. But not far.

Ironically, babies and all their associated paraphernalia are partly responsible for my newly invigorated intolerance of clutter. Nothing prompts people to go out and buy you STUFF like a new baby. I should know, I have been the offensive buyer for years, I love buying baby stuff. Don’t really know why… but the fact is people feel compelled to BUY things every time anyone they know has a baby. In some ways this is good. You don’t need to buy any baby clothes, other people do it for you. Your child could easily last until its first birthday without you dressing it in a single item of your choosing. They also buy you all sorts of other stuff, which can be broken down as follows:

  • 10%- really useful. About half of these things you would never have discovered if it were not for your generous friends and you are really glad you did, because they are really useful. I put my Big Softies cloth nappies (which I use for just about anything except wrapping my babies’ bums in) and my L’il Fraser wrap in this category.
  • 70%- not especially useful but you feel compelled to use it anyway, the cloth bibs that hang too low or soak through straight away, that kind of thing.
  • 15%- stuff you hate but feel obliged to use as you feel too guilty to just shove it in the cupboard unworn. Many items of clothing fall into this category. That brown all-in-one that’s the wrong season, wrong fit, wrong shade of brown, in fact, just WRONG but you put your child in it once and spend the whole time apologising for it when you imagine other people give your child funny looks.
  • 5%- this stuff goes totally unused. It’s just too hideous, or too complicated, or too weird. Those pre-shaped Velcro-fastened wraps you can’t figure out how to put on your baby. The breast-feeding modesty cape (I refer you back to back to Big Softies- that’s one of their uses should you, rightly or wrongly, feel the need to be modest).

Most of my friends, my sister and my sister-in law have children now. Nothing strikes me as more futile than buying stuff for OPCs who you know, full-well, already have too much stuff. You aren’t sure what to get them but feel you have to get them a gift every birthday and every Christmas. You buy them stuff you don’t really like that much and you know the kid doesn’t need but you hope the parents will think it great nonetheless. You don’t really care what happens to your gift, you have Done Your Duty. And that duty arises largely because they will buy your kids stuff and chances are it will be useless.

So, in effect, instead of buying your own child something they need (which, generally, is nothing) and something that you also like, you traipse to the shops, wander round, hand over your money, wrap and give someone else’s child a gift and, in exchange, receive stuff you hate. This is stupid. Sorry, but it is. Yet remarkably few people have the guts to say “Let’s not exchange gifts this year, we have enough, the kids have enough, and what’s more I’m sick of taking all the stuff you give us to the charity shop when I can’t sell it on Gumtree or bring myself to re-gift it”.

I spent the day before Master L’s 2nd birthday sorting through his toys, getting rid of things that I never liked but had kept to be polite, making way for the influx of stuff that I knew would arrive on his birthday. He was overwhelmed on the day. He only learnt what a present is this year. We held some of the gifts back, unopened, for Christmas. We held some of them back as he received duplicates and now we have to spend time returning or exchanging them. Nice thought, but now for a birthday treat he gets dragged to the shopping centre (not his favourite place) while I exchange it…. And buy bribery smoothies and fruit buns and rides in Wiggles cars (well actually they’re free because I’m too mean to fork out the $2 to put in the slot, he doesn’t know the difference). Awesome present, thanks.

So for Christmas this year, we tried to go as much as possible for experience gifts or vouchers:

  • Parents- restaurant voucher
  • Sister & kids and also sister in law & kids- zoo passes
  • Mother in law- spa voucher
  • Father in law- clothing voucher

I hope to go to the zoo with my nieces and nephews, spend time with my sister & sister in law and really enjoy the experience instead of just feeling like a dutiful sister. We haven’t added a single item of clutter to anyone’s house and I’m giving them something they can enjoy, remember and talk about afterwards, which they probably wouldn’t otherwise have done. (Ok, so my father in law will be wearing his gift but at least he gets something useful that he likes.)

My friend with kids who we usually buy for (each of us trying to guess the other one’s tastes and never getting it quite right) said “Let’s not bother this year”. And so we plan to spend the money (in fact, probably less) on a girly afternoon tea in the New Year and a couple of fun hours enjoying each other’s company, sans children, rather than rushing round the shops, kids in tow, buying stuff in desperation and then swapping.

Do I go and buy extra stuff to make up for the presents my kids and I did not receive? No, I don’t think so. A good indicator they don’t really need anything in the first place. Do I make an effort to see people instead? I intend to. And if it’s too much trouble to meet up, well then I’ve gained on two fronts.