Love them or hate them, loot bags are a part of kids’ social lives. Once every weekend (sometimes even twice!), your kid will come home from a friend’s birthday party with a bag or box filled with toys and candy you didn’t ask for—and probably don’t want. In my cumulative 27 years of dealing with loot bags (after three kids and too many parties to count), there’ve been some winners, although most were losers. However, nothing was worse than the loot bag my kid got this past summer, which ranks as the worst loot bag idea of all time. (What was it, you ask? I’m going to reveal that a little later on.)
So, in descending order, I’ve ranked the most horrible loot bag ideas I’ve come across in my years as a parent:
8. Markers. The memory of turning around at a stop light and seeing my daughter covered in marker in the backseat is one I will carry with me forever. Extra demerit points if the markers are not the washable kind, or, worse, permanent.
7. A ton of candy. Some loot bags are like the second coming of Halloween. Sometimes, it’s plainly obvious the bag is literally just filled with extra candy the parents didn’t get to dole out on October 31st.
6. Toy weapons: Woe to any sibling that runs into their brother or sister brandishing a new sword after a few too many helpings of birthday cake. I’ve even heard of cap guns being given as a loot bag treat—but why? Are the parents trying to encourage juvenile delinquency? Or perhaps they’re tone deaf to the desires of other parents.
5. Things you have to plant: I know the idea comes from a good place. But a small green thing in a hand-decorated planter just means I’ll probably have a crying kid on my hands when the thing shrivels up and dies in less than a week.
4. Gift cards for an activity: Just because your family loves go-carting or recreational swimming (or whatever other fun activity you’ve just handed me in certificate form), it doesn’t mean I want to schlep mine to the venue and pay the entry fee for the adults and other kids who weren’t at the party.
3. Copious amounts of plastic junk from the Dollar Store: I’d rather my kids went home from a party empty-handed or received one small toy rather than return with a bag full of crappy odds and ends that are one step away from a trip to the landfill. Sometimes my kids come home with so many of these cheap little toys that I wonder if it would have been less expensive to buy each kid one better-quality toy instead.
2. Super-expensive toys and treats: It’s just embarrassing when the loot bag adds up to more money than was spent on the gift your family bought for the birthday kid. Awkward!
1. A goldfish. Yes, this actually happened to our family this past summer. Giving a family a pet fish in a plastic bag is not a thank-you—it’s a curse. And an expensive one at that. After the birthday kid handed my nine-year-old daughter a red cup with a fish in it, we immediately went to the pet store to buy food and a fishbowl (including pretty little stones and decorations for the bowl). After all that, poor Mickey died two weeks later. Giving party goers a live animal is rude and inconsiderate—and, in my opinion, makes for the worst loot bag idea ever!
Emma Waverman is a writer, blogger and mom to three kids. She has many opinions, some of them fit to print. Follow her on Twitter @emmawaverman.