Upon doing some math, I can safely hypothesize that August must be a really boring month for most couples I know. Because they all have kids kids who celebrate birthdays within a four-week window sometime in April and May.
The doldrums of August is the reason I've found myself scurrying over to Target every other day for the past few weeks. Scrambling to purchase birthday presents for other people's kids. Were I a bit more organized and had more foresight, I could just buy a bunch of toys at once and be done with it. But you probably all know me better than that. My idea of planning ahead is boiling some water to make Mac and Cheese five minutes later.
The truth is, I really don't mind buying toys for other people's kids. I think this (like every other quirk I have) stems from my youth. When I was a kid, I generally waited until the last minute to let my parents know that a.) I had a birthday party to attend and b.) I needed to get a present ASAP or arrive empty-handed and run the risk of having the door slammed in my face, or at the very least have a gaggle of more-prepared girls giggle their asses off at me.
This possibility of arriving at someone's party sans gift was avoided one of two ways:
1: My father would reluctantly leave his post in front of his command-center (consisting of roughly seventeen NCR computers cobbled together, networked and wired up to provide him access to a very archaic virtual bulletin board visited only by other computer nerds of the late 80's) and drive me to the only place in town selling anything that even remotely passed as a thoughtful gift: Hallmark. There I would head straight for the mug section. Which basically consisted of one shelf with four or five different mugs to chose from. Because really, what prepubescent, mildly-indulged little girl wouldn't want a ceramic coffee mug imprinted with the truism, Men, Chocolate, Some Things Are Just Better Rich? Just think of all the uses! And when you come up with one, let me know so I can finally go to sleep at night knowing that I wasn't completely mocked behind my back. Seriously, sometimes I just want to find these people on Facebook and be like, "So....did you throw my mug in the garbage right a-way...or did you actually drink coffee out of it for a few weeks before you realized that coffee was stunting your growth, and then throw it away?" The lady at the Hallmark store probably wondered what the hell I did with all those mugs. Was I opening a coffee shop? Was I a young executive who needed a few pencil holders on my desk? Was this just the first step in a lifetime of collecting useless trinkets--soon I'd be on miniature spoons, Beanie Babies, Precious Moments figurines?
or 2.) Instead of living with the suspicion that I was the all-time worst gift-giver who ever walked the halls of Orchard Road School, I would sneak into my sister's bedroom while she was slaving away at Rodolpho's Pizza and find something that might offer me redemption. And because my sister had a job, was in high school and therefore one of the coolest beings on this or any other planet, there was plenty to choose from. One of my friends received a really neat pair of earrings. Another a Sweet Valley High book (but not number 5. That one I hung onto like other kids might a treasured comic book or their favorite baseball card. Number 5 was entitled All Night Long, so you can just imagine the smut-factor. The guy embracing Jessica Wakefield on the cover had a mustache. And it only got better from there).
Still another received a silver canister full of shimmery powder. I had no clue what my sister even did with it, but the very fact that she had it there, next to her three-way lighted, Conair make-up mirror and tins of blue eyeshadow meant that it must be an important ingredient to being undisputedly cool.
Fortunately the older I got, the more acceptable it became to just give the birthday girl or boy a card with money inside. Sure it was impersonal and kind of...strange. Like the kid was charging a cover to get into her party. But it didn't require a trip to Amy's Hallmark next to the Rocky Hill Grand Union. Hell, I could even make the card myself if I had to. As long as a crisp, ten-dollar bill fell out when the recipient opened it, I don't think it mattered much that the card itself was made from computer punch cards and decorated with dried-out purple marker. I even got in on the action, and made $120 when I turned 13. I think I had a party just so I could make enough money to go to the mall and get a few outfits (and pay my brother gas money--$15 for him to drive me twelve miles in 1991).
So now that my own kids are going to birthday parties more frequently, I can know they won't worry about bringing their friend a poorly-wrapped half-empty bottle of Designers Imposters body spray. Sure the toy might be made in China and break after five seconds, but at least it's not a mug that says World's Greatest Dad.