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Carolyn Hax: Infant’s parents derided for their inferred belief system

DEAR CAROLYN: My household received a written invitation to a birthday party for a 1-year-old. It reads, “Not every child is lucky enough to have a birthday party like A. In lieu of a gift, we are asking that you consider making a donation (of cash) to “a non-profit that claims to ‘help poor children.’ 

What are they trying to say? That their child doesn’t deserve gifts because she’s “too rich”? Logically, does the child even “deserve” a party in the parents’ belief system?

Are the parents (middle-class liberals) having some sort of contest with their neighbors to show who’s the most enlightened, sophisticated liberal – class warfare? No gifts for A in the class struggle?

I looked into the nonprofit mentioned – the director pays herself well out of the “donations.”

I told someone the parents should turn off the leftist TV channel they watch because it’s causing them mind rot – denying their toddler presents. Your thoughts?

Pittsburgh

DEAR PITTSBURGH: Thanks for the proof that people who want to get their knickers bunched will find reasons to in just about anything.

Are these parents playing by the etiquette book? No, because using the invitation to direct your guests’ gift-giving behavior is a well-established “Don’t.”

It is, however, a matter of degrees. These parents aren’t ordering you to bring them cash because they don’t want whatever you pick out. Instead, they are acknowledging their child was born into a life of plenty whereas many babies are not, and (if I may project a bit) are using this opportunity of a birthday when the kid is way too young to understand what a birthday is – much less notice or care what people bring – to do something decent for needy families.

Again, is it strictly proper for them to recruit their guests as do-gooding proxies? No. Is it sanctimonious? Certainly possible. But at least at the end of their faux-pas rainbow, some needy families get diapers and a few guests are spared from figuring out what to bring.

What’s at the end of your angry rainbow? Hosts who are blessed with your complaining about them behind their backs, by your own admission (that’s not in the etiquette books, either), and showering contempt on their beliefs in general and their attempt at generosity in particular. Within five paragraphs of self-congratulation you manage to deride them as liberals, leftists and class warriors who are – you outdo yourself here, putting words in their mouths – “denying their toddler presents” because she “doesn’t deserve gifts.”

How about doesn’t need gifts and won’t even notice their absence? An ideal gift for a 1-year-old is a chance to make a racket with your pots and pans. And since when is it wrong to value presence over presents? It’s not unheard of for children themselves to agree to, even spearhead, parties that serve as charity drives and not gift grabs.

There’s also this: When a party is for a child too young to understand birthdays, it’s safe to assume it’s just an excuse for the parents to welcome in the village. Many such hosts are very concerned their invite-the-village impulse will be mistaken for an excuse to collect gifts, and so reach for ways to discourage them. Ironic, isn’t it.

As a villager who apparently thinks your untouchable authority given right to buy stuff is being trampled, and who apparently doesn’t think much of these parents, I suggest you politely decline the invitation.

Whether you accept the invitation or not, please do – if you can keep the relish out of your voice – notify the hosts of any published record of impropriety in their charity’s use of donations. That’s a kindness no matter what color onesies your politics wear.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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