The no-food birthday treat conundrum — no pencils, please!

Tomorrow is Groundhog Day. February 2nd.

Oh, it’s also Cooper’s ninth birthday. And, yes, every year, we joke about making him stand outside to see his shadow and all of that. Did you have to ask?

So today is birthday prep. Ray is commissioned to do the shopping. I will be working on the birthday treasure hunt clues, cursing myself all the while for starting this tradition that, come to find out, is the highlight of each of my children’s birthdays.

I will also be agonizing over what to send to school tomorrow — the special birthday treat the Cooper will share with his friends.

Yes, I said “agonizing.” Figuring out what to do is awfully hard. We are not allowed to send in food or candy. Cooper is tired of giving and receiving pencils for every occasion (frankly, so am I — we have a giant Ziplock bag of the things, enough to get us through high school, and I’m running out of space.)

He also doesn’t want to be the kid who didn’t bring in anything for his friends on his special day. He’s nine. He wants to party with his friends, if only in a limited way, because he knows that, yet again, this year we don’t have extra funds to throw him a “real” party outside of school. And he hasn’t pouted or complained about it. He’s practical, understands the reality of our financial situation, accepts it when we repeat what we have for the past few birthdays: Maybe next year. Maybe next year.

His matter-of-fact attitude makes my guilt worse, and I fret.  I can’t give him a party with his friends — the least I can do is make his time at school with those friends something of a mini-celebration, his chance to be the birthday boy for a few minutes as his friends smile and laugh and sing, if only for a few minutes of the day?

The easiest thing, of course, would be to mix up a batch of brownies. But I can’t do that, because, as I’ve ranted about before, somebody has decided that the occasional birthday treat during the school day is what is causing our epidemic of childhood obesity. (No, it has nothing to do with the lack of daily gym classes or after-school free time for kid play. Don’t be silly. It’s the cupcakes.)

I’ll probably go to the party store, figure out what I can get for 27 children that is not edible, and, instead of spending a few bucks on a box of Betty Crocker, I’ll spend about thirty dollars getting each one a bouncy ball or something.

It’s funny how, when making that no-treats-in-school guideline, no one considered the added expense to parents of a no-cupcake/candy birthday treat. Is it because I live in a wealthy town, where money doesn’t always seem to be an issue for a lot of families?  Twenty-seven kids is a lot to buy goodie bags for, even if I spend a dollar on each.

On one hand, a 120-calorie brownie that the average 3rd grader will burn off in about ten minutes of recess play. On the other, a fistful of money. Clearly, taking away the brownie is the better choice.

Sure, I can send in nothing. Or he will have to make do with the loathesome pencils. Or what he thinks of as “babyish” stickers.

In the grand scheme of things, this is not the worst pain to suffer. Like I said, Cooper’s pretty easygoing. Whatever happens, he’ll give that little lopsided smile, a small shrug, and move on. He’ll have his treasure hunt and cupcakes at home, just as kids used to do back in the time before birthdays became the mega-celebrations they are today. (Seriously, do you remember having a party with your friends EVERY year? Me neither.) About the birthday treat, well, he probably will get over it in thirty seconds. So will his friends. I know I’m making too much over this, and, having written this post, will now let it go, except to say one more thing:

I sure wish I could make the brownies.

Safety, yes — but from two steps back, please

I must have done something in a past life that has left me with this bizarre sense of guilt.  I’m not talking about the usual stuff — the Mom Guilt, that I’m not doing enough, good enough for my kids, or the Eco Guilt, when I forget my cloth shopping bags and have to get a plastic one, or the Politico Guilt, where I can’t wait for the stupid midterm elections to be over because I can’t stand to see any more of those damned negative ads at six a.m.

Nope.  This is the guilt that has no name.  It’s the feeling I get when a pass a police car — or, even worse, when one follows me for a mile or so.  I wonder if I’ve committed some random traffic violation, or if the kids are quietly misbehaving and I can’t hear them because Taylor Swift is warbling too loudly from the speakers — like the time when Cooper stood up under his seatbelt and hung out of the window and I got pulled over and reprimanded because he wasn’t buckled up properly.  There’s always a not-so-faint sigh of relief when trooper and I part ways.

Or like the times I’m in the grocery store or Lowe’s and Joanna or Ellie do something naughty, like help themselves to apples or climb up a lighting display, and I have to give them the what-for, and they start crying and screaming for Daddy, and I have to wonder if the other shoppers think I’m a child abductor or something.

Or when I’m waiting at the bank for my deposit to be finished (remember when you used to do that instead of using the ATM?  The tellers still have lollipops, in case it’s been a while for you.)  All those security cameras.  Me, just standing there, waiting.  Nothing to do.  Nothing to read.  Shifting from foot to foot.  Surely I look guilty of something, despite the kicky handbag from Talbot’s my sister gave me.  

It’s good that we live in a society that works hard to protect us from bad people, that provides the means for locating said bad people if a crime does occur.  It’s nice to have well-meaning citizens around who would intervene if a child was in danger.  But sometimes the constant monitoring starts to feel a little too Big Brother-ish.  Since I’ve already got two of those, I can do without a third, especially one that is omnipresent. 

Sure, let’s work together to create a safe and healthy world for all people.  But if you wouldn’t mind, take a step back.  Maybe two.  I just have a silly thing about others invading my personal space.