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THERE was a time when I thought that as my kids got older, birthdays would prove to be less of a challenge.
Presents, parties, which friends to invite – these were all things to stress about. Don’t worry, I’d say to myself, it will all be easier as they get older. Did I get that wrong!
In my childhood, kids’ parties were pretty modest affairs. There would be a few carefully chosen presents – nothing too grand: books, music cassette tapes, clothes – a special dress or a new pair of shoes. There’d be home-made birthday cake, lollies and sausage rolls. It would be an afternoon of hide and seek, pass the parcel, pin the tail on the donkey and musical chairs. We weren’t wealthy, but everyone had a great time. Parents survived with minimal hearing loss and only a small budget deficit.
Decades later, it’s a very different story. Many parents wanting to give their son or daughter that very special day can spend a fortune. I can recall one notable kids’ party that involved the construction of an outdoor fun park and a fully catered picnic with waiters and waitresses expertly avoiding a swarm of rambunctious tiny tots.
I long tried to avoid the over-the-top party scenario, and usually managed to do so, though I have regularly succumbed to competitive pressures when it has come to birthday presents.
In an effort to get just the right thing, I’d usually end up flustered and buying way too much in some overpriced toy shop. There’d be a lot of unwrapping, but ultimately much wastage.
Times are changing. My kids are older and their birthday expectations more mature. Gone are the buckets of Lego, battery-operated toys of all types, innumerable cute soft toys or a new paint set (though my tween daughter still has an insatiable desire for art supplies).
Now the demands seem to be all about IT – a new phone, tablet, laptop or gaming console. “That’s all I really want,” is the frequent refrain from my teenage son as he diplomatically draws my attention to another new piece of hardware. A few years ago I’d go looking for the latest Nerf Gun. Now birthdays mean I have to be cashed up, tech savvy and prepared to sign my life away on contracts.
I don’t dare buy clothes for my teen boy without him knowing because he is so picky and just won’t wear it if I get it wrong.
So birthday presents now involve careful research and consultation, few surprises and much capital expenditure on IT and related services. Happiness was once a pair of Levis or an Abba record. Life, as always, has moved on. My kids aren’t that materialistic. Family, friends and sport are their big preoccupations. But it’s still stressful trying to get the material side of birthdays just right.