We went shopping for a friend’s child’s birthday yesterday. A sure sign of turning old if there was any.
Earlier a party meant hanging out with friends dancing the night away, now a party means the stodgy office get-togethers mostly farewells or promotions; the only ‘informal’ parties are the birthdays of your colleagues’ children.
Considering it would be the first of many such birthdays in years to come, I decided to plunge right in.
What do you get a one year old, and a four year old?
I tried to revise the baby milestones while thinking out loud “ Does a one year old understand colours? Is a squeaky toy too kiddish for a one year old? Have they outgrown the quacking of the duck, and are they ready for the mechanics of a toy car?
We decided to go for the sensible gifts. The kinds which the parents appreciate; after all how many of us remember what we got on our first birthday, or for that matter what we got on the fourth birthday?
Gifts should seemingly be for the children when actually we mean it for the parents. For example a drinking cup and bib for the infant and a tiny school bag for the four year old for her baby steps into the wonderful world of school. Yup that would be fun – not.
We quickly shot down the idea of the non- fun sensible gifts, once we found out that a ‘unbreakable’ saucer and cup came for over 400 rupees! “how much?” I shrieked. No we don’t want a set of cups , we just want one cup, I clarified. Evidently a single drinking cup can cost you 400 rupees. I pretty much decided to make my unborn child drink from a stainless-steel glass in that moment. Oh and a school bag is upwards of 600 ruppees: it’s for kinder garten for God’s sake, a tiffin box and maybe colour-pencils is what it will hold!
Anyways we came to the conclusion that if we were going to buy ‘expensive’ gifts we might as well have fun buying them. We thought of all the gifts we really wanted as children, and the ones we never got.
We decided we wanted to be the cool aunties, the ones who bought nice fun birthday gifts.
We headed for the ‘little black dress’ of birthday gifts. You see no matter what the occasion and body type, you can find a LBD for the occasion and still be trendy, similarly no matter what kind of little girl we are buying for, THE BARBIE DOLL is the safest bet, thus the little black dress of birthday gifts.
Happy memories of the barbies I had got over the years rushed back as we shopped for the right Barbie. The wedding Barbie and birthday Barbie and fashionista Barbie… each one more gorgeous then the next, but we pretty much stopped after seeing the price. The simple cute, my first Barbie just didn’t seem to rock it.
At the end of our Barbie sojourn we came to one resounding conclusion, “ Our parents were right.”
As a kid I remember pining for the Barbie swimming pool and sauna set, complete with deck chairs and little over head umbrella, plastic suntan bottles and what have you. I never got it. The kitchen Barbie, with the plastic microwave oven and tiny plastic pizzas and burgers… nope that was also greeted with a no. It’s too expensive and you are going to lose the plastic suntan bottle anyway, where are you going to put it, your room is full of toys, what happened to the last Barbie you got, you lost it’s shoe the very next day… words which had seemed so harsh back then ring with truth now. We unanimously came to the conclusion that we would not buy our kids the grossly over prized Barbie paraphernalia, they would get bored of it in a week anyways.
It’s not about the toy I rationalized to myself, it’s the principle of the matter. I am going to be teaching my child a very important life lesson. You do not always get what you want, you must value money, even if you think that this is what you really really want and can’t live without it, over time you will realize that you can. These are important lessons best learnt in childhood. It’s why I am a grounded and well balanced person.
This brilliant insight I can claim now. I am in a unique position where I am no longer a child and do not have children of my own yet. I still remember my own childhood and all the times I craved a particular toy and the joy of receiving it, the adult in me is able to remember that the toy stopped mattering after some time, and the woul- be parent in me has already started denying my would-be child her would be fantasies. I stand at a threshold looking at my past and using the knowledge to make my future.
“little girl, if you want the swimming pool barbie with ken, then it is going from your college fund, you must realize that everything costs money, and only then you will value it.” I told my imaginary kid.
That’s when we found the ‘bella ‘doll. It was an imitation Barbie, and quite cute. It also fit our budget. YES!! We had found a fun toy, it fit our budget and we were the undisputed queens of shopping for li’l girls. Oh look, it even has a press here button, let’s see what that does! No sooner had we pressed the “press here” button than the whole shop resounded in “ Munni badnam hui darling tere liye” horrified we pressed the button again only to be greeted by “ My name is sheela, sheela ki jawani I’m too sexy for you..” It was so ridiculous that I was rolling in the aisle laughing. Thank God we had noticed the “press here” button, I thought, imagine if this had happened at the birthday party!
We had another session of deciding on the “badnam” bella. As my friend rightly said, it was a pretty doll, and fit our budget , and as far as the raunchy wordings went, children these days would anyways know them through television. All true, but by now I was in my make belief world with my unborn little girl, and I would never ever let her get a jawan badnam doll. It is probably true that in years the toys will all have “age inappropriate content” but for now I refused to give in to the marketing gimmick.
That brought us back to the more expensive, but decidedly more decent Barbies. We settled for a one which had a baby in a pram, it also came with two adorable looking plastic shoes. I realized that maybe the pink plastic stiletto would lie under the bed the next day, another of the shoes would be lost in the caverns of the multiple drawers in the birthday girls room.
But I was not the mother who would run after the girl asking her where the lost shoe had gone, neither would I be there when a month later the doll would lie decapitated in a forgotten corner of the toy cupboard, much like many of my own Barbies had lain.
I was not the mother yet,for now, I would be the indulgent aunt who bought cool fun gifts.
This blog is for my parents who looked on unflinchingly while I discarded many a toy which they had bought lovingly and from their hard earned money, this is also for all young parents to have the courage to bring up their children in such trying times, it is also for every one who has ever shopped for birthday presents for children.