Experience Days vs. Gift Days: How To Exit Through The Gift Shop Sans Tears

Every once in awhile I do some big grand parenting thing that makes me think I’m not completely screwing up our kids.

Not enough that these moments of Mama Mojo come anywhere near balancing out the constant “Therapy Talking Points” I provide my kids on a daily basis — She’s always DEMANDING us, she never says please! She left us with sitters she found on the internet! Sometimes she starts screaming at us before we’ve even finished breakfast! She won’t make us a back-up dinner if nothing on the table is appealing enough to our persnickety palates! One year she chose to attend a WRITING WORKSHOP for three whole days rather than celebrate MOTHER’S DAY with us! When one of us hits/kicks/bites the other one, SHE ACTUALLY TELLS US TO HIT/KICK/BITE THEM BACK! — but hey, we’re Jewish, they were going to end up in therapy anyway, so I’m doing them a favor by at least offering them something to “explore” while they’re there.

That said, sometimes I really do stun myself by coming up with something that actually helps them negotiate the world in a more logical way, and turns them into better people, with an actual value system, and umm … makes my life easier on the-day-to-day level, too.

And by easier, I mean less expensive.

Enter EXPERIENCE DAYS (as opposed to PRESENTS DAYS. Obviously.).

The concept springs from the idea that most of us don’t want more STUFF in our life – we want more experiences, more vacations, more adventures, more things to make memories from. I can’t count the number of times I have shrugged off MrBig(Ideas)’s attempts to buy me some great gift by saying, No, please, really: I just want to take the day off / get a massage / go take a writing workshop.

Well, a few years ago, I decided it was time to teach my kids the value of experience over the endless pieces of crappity-crap-crappen-crap that they were constantly begging for whenever we went anywhere.

I mean, it kills me that literally EVERYWHERE we take our kids, someone is trying to sell us something.

At the zoo, at the museum, at the park. At the MALL. And I’m not just talking about the STORES, people. I mean the friggin’ STALLS parked all over the HALLWAYS and the COURTS of the malls. As if just going to the mall doesn’t already mean we’re shopping – we’re’re supposed to be buying our kids crap they’ll break on the way home BETWEEN STORES, too?

Not this Mama. I hit my breaking point the day I took Diddy and Gaga to the Disney El Capitan Theater to go see Beauty and the Beast. This particular screening came complete with floor show. Yep, real-live Belle and dancing tchotchkes entertained the kids before the movie for a slight up-charge in ticket price.

We bought popcorn. Soda. Candy.

Cha-ching. Cha-ching. Cha-ching.

And then after the show…

… the ushers made us exit through the gift shop.

Instant meltdown. Diddy was almost four, Gaga two-plus, and I literally had to throw them both over my shoulders to get them through the store without them tearing everything off the shelves in a tiny-child-consumeristic-frenzy.

They struggled in my arms all the way back the car.

That’s when the Mommy Mojo kicked in.

“Girls,” I said. “Today was an Experience Day. An experience is a THING YOU DO THAT’S FUN. It’s a thing you do that’s SO FUN, YOU REMEMBER IT FOR ALWAYS. We don’t BUY things on Experience Days. We DO things on Experience Days. Today, we WENT TO A MOVIE. That was the Experience. That was ENOUGH.”

This didn’t stop them screaming or crying.

But what it did do was give us a language for the NEXT TIME we were headed out. I used that language as we got dressed (Today we’re having an EXPERIENCE DAY – not a PRESENTS DAY – we’re going to the zoo) and in the car (We are going to have such a fun EXPERIENCE today!). Yhen I quizzed them at the gate.

Me: What’s today? An Experience Day or a Presents Day?

Diddy: An Experience Day.

Me: Let’s go check out some giraffes.

It worked. On the way out, Gaga did try to drag us into one of the fifteen billion gift shops there, but Diddy smacked her down with a quick, “Gaga, today’s an EXPERIENCE Day, not a Presents Day!” and we made it home without complaints.

The kids are so good at this now, we can actually ENTER GIFTSHOPS and LOOK A THINGS without having to fight about why we’re not BUYING everything in sight.

Go me.

I’ll be back to elaborate on that whole window-shopping-with-my kids thing in the next week or so. Till then, I’ve got to go order them around / leave them with unproven sitters / force them to eat asparagus / abandon them for some extended me-time / compel them to go mano-a-mano in the ChecklistFamily Fight Club.

And I should probably start looking for family therapists right after that

I'm Just Looking for Some Grown-Ups to Talk To ...

Categories: Diddy, Gaga, Mr. Big(Ideas), Spouting Off, and Tips / Tools / Tricks.

12 Responses to Experience Days vs. Gift Days: How To Exit Through The Gift Shop Sans Tears

  • Tunismom
    January 12, 2013

    I LOVE this idea!! We do it a lot also, but giving it a name, I think, lets the children understand that the experience is the gift. We’ve never had a big problem with HAVING to buy our girls stuff. Since they were little I told them everything belonged to the store and we couldn’t take it out. Now, at ages 7 and almost 5, they obviously know this isn’t quite true, but they don’t expect to get something every time we step into a store. However, they just know that we “do” stuff, I don’t think we’ve emphasized enough about “doing” stuff being the “gift” of the day!

  • Sarah R.
    June 7, 2012

    I, too, love experience days. In fact, most of our outings are these. By starting this early, I’ve thankfully avoided gift shop meltdowns (although I have yet to finish year two). Per your point that our kids are bombarded with consumerism and temptation (I mean, geez, my son is only a toddler and has never eaten at McDonald’s, Starbucks, and the like, yet he knows the brand), I hope that experience days ensures that he doesn’t have a false emotional connection with a certain company and, thus, avoids being a brand whore who “needs” X, Y, or Z. Anyway, great creative inspiration smart mama!

    • checklistmommy
      June 7, 2012

      The brand recognition thing KILLS ME! Diddy has been able to identify Starbucks by their mermaid logo since she could speak …

  • This little tidbit of advice – ‘experience day’ – is elegant in its simplicity. It conveys the value of an experience in-and-of-itself without conflating it with gifts. They always say that creative genius strikes at the most unpredictable moments…your moment was carrying screaming children down Hollywood Blvd.

    • checklistmommy
      June 5, 2012

      if only every time i carried screaming children down any public street i had similar moments of genius …

  • Carpool Goddess
    June 5, 2012

    This is brilliant! I wish I would have tried this years ago instead of dueling it out in every gift shop.

  • Christina Simon
    June 5, 2012

    Sometimes, I get weary from all the consumerism. Great suggestions and funny too!

  • Lorena
    June 5, 2012

    Great idea! I love it! Will get on it right away 🙂

  • Missy
    June 5, 2012

    Your Mama Mojo was right on when it came up with Experience Days vs. Presents Days. I love it! I’m so tired of buying our way through every gift shop in the city too! Thanks for the tip – I’m going to start the process of introducing it to my kids too. Should take about a year before we will make it past a display of plastic bugs and bouncy balls without a tantrum, but we’ll get there!

    • checklistmommy
      June 5, 2012

      Thanks, Missy! I think you’ll be shocked at how relatively quickly this works — you just have to repeat it over and over and over and over and over and over again …

  • Donna Tetreautl
    June 4, 2012

    I absolutely love this! I will start this with my children asap! I have felt the same way about presents and didn’t know how to handle it! Thanks!

    • checklistmommy
      June 4, 2012

      Thanks, Donna! Coming from you, that means a lot!

Sarah Kate Levy

Once upon a time I wanted to be a novelist in NY. FOUR KIDS LATER I'm a
screenwriter in LA who blogs about parenting, partnering, and the decline of civilization / my home.

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