The impossibility of finding a birthday gift

Our daily routine goes more or less like this: I pick Edan up from daycare, then we run around the park, go swimming, explore the Botanical Gardens, or whatever, and then I drop her off at her mom's office. Because Austin's roads get obnoxiously congested by 4pm every afternoon, and daycare, my house, and the office are all in different parts of the city, it's a real pain in the butt to go to the house between pick-up and drop-off.

So we're almost never at home.

Plus, I'm from Cleveland, where the weather is dreary, wet and cold for 8 months out of the year. Whenever the weather is halfway decent, you go outside -- no matter what -- or risk feeling guilty for "wasting" what could be the last sunny day the city will ever see. Now that I live in the sunniest place on the planet, it means I spend nearly every waking moment outdoors, just to ward off a resurgence of my weather-associated guilt from childhood.

Subsequently, Edan hardly spends any time in her room, and rarely gets to play with her toys. She has plenty -- stockpiled from Christmas, birthdays, and all the times my mom saw something that was too cute to pass up. (So many, in fact, I think they're breeding.) The toys are cool, and, because she gets to play with them so infrequently, Edan actually likes being couped-up inside, just because it means she can finally use all her stuff.

On a lazy Saturday -- instead of going to the zoo, or some family-friendly hippie music performance (of which, at least in Austin, there are plenty) -- she'd rather spend hours rummaging through her stuff, finding awesome distractions that'd she otherwise forgotten about.

And then her birthday comes around, and I feel compelled to add to the pile of brightly-colored plastic. However, because most of the time we spend together is either at a public place, in the car, or outside, I never know what to get her.

I'd love to hear your gift ideas. However, please keep in mind the following:

1. I'm not rich. This means no revolutionary, multi-media educational uber-fun devices that teach children to play Mozart concertos while learning to read (in English, French and Mandarin) and/or to recite the capitals of every nation on the planet.

2. I don't live in a mansion (see #1). So no toys that deserve their own mailing address, please. I was actually forced to donate a supremely awesome system of miniatures tents and tunnels to Edan's daycare, because they have a fenced-in backyard, storage, and an additional 1,000 sq feet.

3. It has to be really good. Mostly, because this is the first birthday Edan will remember, so -- essentially -- playtime is over, and it's time for my parenting "game face." Inevitably she will have to deal with disappointment throughout childhood, which is a normal and important part of growing up. However, I'd like for someone else to be the source of that disappointment as often as possible. I only see her part-time, so I feel this is a realistic expectation. Plus, there must be some benefit to being the non-custodial parent, and I'm hoping this is it.

But also, because this is the first year we're trying to do a birthday party with everyone. Everyone. Dad, mom, step-dad, step-mom, grandma, pops, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, et al -- most of whom I haven't spoken with since Edan was 2 or 3 months-old (and at that time, we weren't exactly fond of each other).

Hence -- while I know it shouldn't matter -- I want the gifts from my girlfriend and I to at least compete with those brought by the other guests. Before you skip ahead to reprimand me in the comments, I'm well aware that this kind of thinking is immature, petty, and will only lead to frustration and disappointment. But if we could overlook that for just a second, I think we could come up with some really solid ideas.

Because, in all honesty, it's not because I have something to prove. I don't know most of these people, and -- chances are -- our paths won't cross again for at least another year. And, in spite of my insecurities, I know that Edan won't love me any less if other people buy her better presents. But once in awhile, I'm superficial, and I want to know that I guessed right, and found the thing she really wanted.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.