Monday, September 20, 2010

Birthday registries: A sign of armageddon?

The Grape and I almost skipped the playground today, because I thought I might take a stab at de-cluttering the apartment. We're getting it ready to sell, so the great dig out needs to happen sometime soon, or we'll never get to move.

And moving no longer feels entirely elective. The Grape kind of needs his own room before he can start telling people his crib abuts the dining room table.

The sun was shining and the Grape was unpacking boxes about as fast as I could pack them, so we gave up on being productive and hit the park.

Lucky me. Because there, in the sandbox, I heard about something so beyond the pale I thought it was the stuff of suburban legends.

A mom of three was clutching a birthday party invitation for a five year old boy's party and stammering in disbelief. She had picked up the mail over an hour earlier and still couldn't process this missile. The colorful card inviting her brood for cake and whatever else featured an insert containing registry information. As if that alone wasn't crass enough, the printed invitation concluded with an admonishment to "Buy from the registry, please! Those are the only presents Junior wants!"

Where I come from, which I promise is not a galaxy far away in another dimension, children don't pre-order their birthday presents. They graciously accept whatever they may be fortunate enough to receive. Duplicate gifts provide teaching moments. Elementary schoolers aren't too young to make attempts at masking disappointment, if necessary. And equally importantly, there's nothing quite like the squeal of delight from a little kid who gets exactly what he or she hoped for, without knowing in advance.

The registry people's kids will never experience that.

Of course a half dozen playground moms whipped out their iPhones and BlackBerries and pulled up the registry in question. The birthday boy had extravagant tastes; the least expensive item was $59.95.

Are his parents on drugs?

This birthday registry thing achieves levels of audacity beyond that of those oafs who ask guests to address their own thank you cards; or the couples who "register" for cash to defray the costs of their fourth trip down the aisle; or the children who send Santa multi-page bullet-pointed lists, without the requisite explanation of good behavior and polite (albeit self-serving) inquiries as to the big man's health, not to mention that of his tiny reindeer.

I was sorry, but no longer surprised, to learn that at least a half dozen sites exist to help your child create and share a birthday registry. They pitch convenience to gift givers, but come on. It's really not that hard to find an appropriate present for a little kid. If you're truly flummoxed, you can take two minutes to ask the child's parents, or the clerk in the toy store, or an innocent bystander who looks vaguely kid-savvy.

This registry nonsense is about G-R-E-E-D greed, which, to me at least, doesn't seem like the greatest trait parents can encourage in their offspring.

Registries weren't designed for little kids with multiple gift-receiving occasions (one of the sites allows a child to maintain multiple registries: birthday, holiday, preschool graduation, etc.). They were invented so brides didn't receive fourteen different patterns of china. And all the etiquette gurus agree that registry information, even for events like weddings, has no place on an invitation.

I left the park glad that the registry in question was someone else's problem. I hope the mom sends regrets. Somebody ought to set this child's parents straight before they turn their pint-sized consumer into a major monster.

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