I Will Never Do It Again


Several years ago (about four), I threw a surprise birthday party for the Wild Boar.  All I really wanted was for him to be “surprised” and he was.  I ordered formal invitations and sent them out with the words, “No Gifts” on the bottom.

How could I expect people to bring him gifts when he and I do not even exchange birthday presents.  There is nothing we need/want!  I thought I was doing everyone a favor.

Of course everyone showed up with very generous, thoughtful and lovely gifts, even though it wasn’t necessary.  It was a great party and we still have good memories of that night.

However, fast forward to now.  My children have just received their sixth birthday party invitation this year that says “No Gifts”.  Ugh.

OMG, I will never, never, ever, never put that statement on another party invitation as long as I live.

I didn’t realize how much stress those two words cause the party-goer.

These “no gifts” invites often include other “no statements” as well.  No Sugar.  No siblings.  No wrapping paper.  Bring only a gift to donate to charity.  One even said, no gifts made in China (at first I thought are you kidding, but honestly it was better than the no gifts sentiment, at least we had the green light to bring something).  We even received two Halloween party invitations indicating, “no candy.”  A Halloween party without candy?  Ummm…okay.  Party invitations have become the equivalent of a rule book and I don’t like it.

You see, here’s what happens.  After I receive these “no gift’s” invites I immediately go into overdrive thinking about what I should do.  Do I purposefully shun the request of the hostess, bring a gift and potentially irritate the party-giver.  Or do I follow directions, not bring a gift and stand-by as everyone else parades in with a present?  Better yet, do I bring something small, you know, not really a gift, but an offering, then look cheap because it was minuscule?  I’ve done all three and none of them feel right.

I’ve decided the “no gifts” statement is really power impersonating as thoughtfulness.  It’s the control of having to risk getting a bunch of things you do not want in your house.  I’m over it.

I would love to slap the “no gifts” policy on my children’s birthday party invites but really, this is why the kids want the party, for the presents!  Do they need anything, absolutely not.  What they want is the excitement of the unwrap and the possibility of what’s behind door number three.  Funny thing is, my kids have received some of their favorite toys as birthday presents.  Things I would have never bought them or thought they were interested in.

In all honesty, I confess having no problem purchasing more dishes and shoes than anyone could possibly ever need.  However, wave another Hot Wheel or Lego set under my nose and I will almost faint from feelings of excessive, unsustainable consumption.  Go figure. 

So yes, I feel the “no gifts” statement is all about control and I say, let it go.  My kids also love picking out the perfect present for their friends and feel good when they see how excited the child is when opening it.

I will NEVER place those words on an invite again.

Bring on the presents.  Relieve the stress.

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75 Comments

  1. Diane 1

    Gosh I’d never thought about it before. I hate going empty handed though even if I try to take a little something, chocolates or wine … but I have quite happily turned up at friends with only a smile!
    I do like the “no gifts made in china” as a fantastic protectionist idea though. We do import so much cheap tat from the other side of the world at the expense of our own manufacturers.

  2. Laura 2

    Yes, “no gifts” causes stress, so I have some suggestions.
    Me? Making suggestions to YOU? ( I know it’s crazy but read on…)
    The issue these day is that no one want to look lazy or empty-handed, so if you are trying to alleviate the problem of unnecessary stuff etc., you need to provide your guests with an alternative.

    *Please bring a bottle of wine that reminds you of Wild Boar.
    *Please write an 8 line poem in the Wild Boar’s honor and be prepared to read it.
    * Instead of traditional presents we are asking guests to bring a pair of children’s shoes to donate to children in the Sudan region.

    I think there are ways around the no gifts theme. We simply need to supply the guests with an alternative…a way to enter the door with something in hand.
    I think “the something in hand” is the bottom line.

    (Incidentally, we are going to a party tonight for a woman turning 50 and she is from a very wealthy family and trying to keep up with them is ridiculous so we are giving her a lovely wine stopper and a bottle of wine.
    I”m sure some people might be giving her hospital wings…uh…not us

  3. I see both sides of the fence and understand…especially right now when the economy is so bad that some children are not allowed to go to birthday parties because the parents can not afford a gift and want to protect their child from the embarrassment…BUT, I am a gifter and I love to buy or make presents for other people…and I too say bring on the presents.

  4. Kate 4

    No gifts for a child’s birthday is just wrong. It is such fun opening gifts! Let children be children. I agree!

  5. Hilary 5

    Hi Cathy .. we must take prezzies for children – they love them so .. and so often we don’t share with them when they’re opening them .. I like to share each gift – not to say I have children! I hate the wedding list set up too .. I always try and bring something a little different – but if asked not to I don’t .. I may ask if I can help with the food instead .. and depending on the situation bring a bottle too –
    Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters

  6. ntsc 6

    Have never run into it on a children’s invitation and since he is 33 going on 12, don’t think we ever will. (He is currently holding his breath until we give in).

    Anything else we bring wine or a basket of home-made stuff.

    We don’t put ‘no gifts’ on invites, but if we get questions the answer is ‘bring wine, we will drink it with dinner’, makes for good evenings. We have said ‘bring wine’, of course that was the last sit down dinner party. For 22 and about 1984 – never again.

  7. Jenny 7

    We got to let kids be kids and keep up tradition. It’s one thing if you have a rule that out of all the new gifts they receive that they donate one or two to charity…
    As for gifts for the adult, we don’t need any. When we want something…we usually get it ourselves because we are so particular…Although, ‘no presents’ may induce stress for some…I get more stressed when I expected to bring something when they leave a vague comment such as ‘please bring a dish’ We need to stop getting our ‘panties in a bundle’with so many rules for invites and just enjoy the festivities.

  8. Erin 8

    Okay, I can see the no gifts policy at an adult party, but at a KID’S party? Really? You’re totally right that the whole reason a kid wants a party is for the presents. :) We can tell ourselves that what they want is the friends and the cake and the memories, but who are we kidding? :)

  9. I always say “Your Presence is our Gift” and if they bring one anyway, oh well. But children usually still get presents! Gah!

  10. I cracked up when I read “no gifts made in China.” It is a conundrum when you get that message on an invite, and I just recently ignored it for a friend’s bday party, bringing a bottle of champage and two flutes. Another friend had a bday party recently and the invite said, “In lieu of gifts, please consider donating to xxxx.” That was a good alternative, I thought. But kids’ parties should include gifts. That’s half the fun for a little person.

  11. We have an unwritten family rule for the holidays that presents are only for kids and that works. But birthdays are more complicated, one of our uncles just requested no gifts for his party and we really didn’t know what to do – whether to get a gift or a card or what :)

  12. We actually went to a party where the invite said “No gifts” so we didn’t bring one. We were one of the only couples that did what the invite said. We felt like complete and total idiots because of it.

    I agree with you…a Halloween party without candy? What is that all about?!

  13. I agree! The excitement is in the giving or receiving of the gift.
    I am joining you in the fight against giftless parties!

  14. Trisha 14

    Apparently, I am not too thoughtful. When an invitation says “no gifts” I obey. I might bring a card but no gifts. I do agree though that it is a major turn off when inviations give lists of instructions.

  15. dawn 15

    Okay, “no gifts made in China”, that is a serious power trip, LOL.

  16. No candy at a Halloween party – WHAT?! I’d be more likely to say “No toothbrushes, pennies, or other crappy Halloween handouts that aren’t candy.”

  17. Laurie 17

    Great post, Cathy! The words “no gifts” stress me out beyond belief and you have perfectly captured what we all feel when faced with this dilemma.

  18. Barbie with a T 18

    I do not think adults need gifts either. It is a kid thing. Let the kids have fun with it. I have received some pretty silly gifts from guests and all I say to them is “You shouldn’t have” and I really meant it, because I would just have to put those atrocious gifts out of sight. The only gifts I like are “expensive, well thought out ones, and those only come from my husband. Other people should just realize that I do not want or need anything that I cannot buy myself. I know, it is the thought that counts, but I can do without those thoughts too.
    Good luck with the invites. Hope you find the courage to do the right thing! Whatever that is. haha

  19. LilSis 19

    I have never heard of that on a invite to a kid’s birthday party! It is fun for the party goer, especially young children, to go pick out a nice little gift for their friend. I don’t really understand why someone would do that.

  20. Rindy R 20

    I am so glad someone is addressing this. I TOTALLY agree with you. Let our kids be kids people. My children need nothing as well – but why should they be deprived of the same wonderful childhood memories we had? On the other side of the coin (literally) my girls are learning the art of giving! Picking out the right gift for their friend or putting time into making something to show how much they love that person is a life lesson as well!

  21. You know… I wish parents would just let their kids enjoy being kids…

    Why have a birthday party for your children and not let them enjoy getting presents? It’s like drinking decaf coffee.. Why the heck bother????

    If there is too much crap in your house, get rid of it before the party! Have your child help weed out the stuff they don’t need to make room for they new stuff.. Heck, give it away as part of the goody bags!

    If parents are going to do the no gift thing, call it a play date instead…

  22. Jenna 22

    I think the problem is that giving a gift is meant to be the option of the gift-giver! It shows appreciation, thoughtfulness, and the desire to share/give/be kind. Gifts shouldn’t be expected, or rejected…the problem goes both ways now days…the receiver shouldn’t take the power away from someone who wants to be generous, and the giver shouldn’t feel obligated to give when they are not inclined to give.

  23. imom 23

    I agree, the “no gifts” is very hard to know what to do with. I’ve done both taken and not taken gifts and felt uncomfortable both times.

    I love Laura’s idea of writing a poem about the guest of honor, or bringing a bottle of wine that reminds you of the honoree!

  24. Shawn 24

    Ahahahaha! I love how you put things into perspective!

    In all honesty, I confess having no problem purchasing more dishes and shoes than anyone could possibly ever need. However, wave another Hot Wheel or Lego set under my nose and I will almost faint from feelings of excessive, unsustainable consumption. Go figure.

    That is so true!

  25. Bob 25

    Heh, I solve that problem by never going to parties. Although if there were Legos there…

  26. I get stressed when I get those too. The first time I felt so awkward and I brought a “token” gift–but after that I just thought “Fine! I won’t bring a thing!” But I much prefer a party w/ no gift “restrictions”.

  27. Leslie 27

    good post! i was just about to do the invites for my old man’s 30th bday party, and was going to say “no gifts.” scratch that idea! i’ll take your advice.

    i’ve gone to a few weddings where the people tell me not to get them anything, so i don’t – and i always feel bad like they were just saying that to be nice and they really wanted something. but, that’s their fault for saying it!

  28. thank you so much for this view I am in the process of planning a surprise BD party and I struggled with that exact problem So I will not be putting NO GIFTS on the invites

  29. Lisa 29

    I really enjoy your point of view! Yes, I think you’re right, it is all about control. The problem is, when we try to control everything we push away the possibility of serendipity. I think we are often comfortable with giving but I think many of us need to work on our ability to receive graciously. Birthday parties are a great opportunity to learn about being gentle with the feelings of others and being grateful for even odd blessings.

  30. leftfoot 30

    Personally, I always feel cheap if I come to a party without a gift. After all, the host has spent a good deal of time and money putting the event together. Even if I’m told “no gift”, I always bring a bottle of something they will enjoy. If it’s a child’s party, I get a stuffed animal or party favors for all of the children. For me, a gift is a way of showing my appreciation for the host’s work and being invited. Even if I can’t make a party, I still send a gift. But, of course I love LOVE giving presents. I get as much joy watching someone opening a gift as they do opening it.

  31. Teresa 31

    What I do instead of trying to figure out gifts is send on the invitation to please use whiteenvelopeproject.org, this is geared towards all age groups. My friend’s two year old little boy, Hunter, wants to “save the hippos” and this would be something cool to do for him :) it also supports my fav charity anysoldier.com. Kids need to be kids, it seems like they are in fast forward, but giving and sharing are good lessons too. My plan for the next child’s b-day party: bring a small toy under 10 and a gift card for ten dollars to white envelope project.
    I agree with the other readers, it should be more specific than “no presents”, that makes my palms sweat just reading it. I come from a family where showing up anywhere empty handed is almost painful. Having a theme for the gifts is at least a little less traumatic! :) Have a great weekend everyone and please don’t stop blogging, some of my best belly laughs come from this blog!

  32. For kid parties, yes to gifts, they do love them. Adults- hmm, wine, gift card for a coffee or car wash- something they would never think to get themselves! My hubby loves the car wash cards.

  33. lo 33

    Isn’t it funny how well-intentioned statements like this often cause more trouble than they’re worth?

  34. Pam 34

    You are so right! It totally stresses me out. I too will never put those words on my kids b-day invitations. Great post.

  35. Elyse 35

    I agree with you!! It’d be a nice sentiment if the people actually meant no gifts, but that’s not what they mean, of course! I feel like sometimes people do it just to sound “charitable,” too. OY!

  36. Biz 36

    I have never received a “no gifts” invitation for a child’s party before! I can understand for a retirement party, but that’s the best part of a kids party!

    I say maybe get a small gift, leave it in the car, and if everyone else totes one in you can say “oh I left my gift in the car, I’ll be right back!”

    Hope you have a great weekend Cathy!

  37. Katrina 37

    And this on the heels of my 7 year old going to a birthday party tomorrow. Thankfully, the invite didn’t say “no gifts”. I’m right there with you on this whole post!

  38. We (my mother, sister & I) did the “No Gifts” line for my dad’s 60th birthday last year. After the party was over, my dad had 6 bottles of wine, several books, and a baseball bat as presents. My dad was very generous about the whole thing, but I could see my mother being peeved at his friends. My oldest (who was 5 at the time) just wanted to play with PeePaw’s bat. So there we are.

  39. Mary 39

    Gee,Cathy! I don’t think that “no gifts” is an overt power play, perhaps at some Freudian level it could be categorized as such but I don’t think it’s conscious. What it does say is I’m so affulent There is nothing you can give me that I want. It has become a bizzare status symbol. For kids – they have to learn how to thoughtfully give and graciously receive. When Mom says no get a gift certificate to a book store – the book might actually change a life.

  40. Flea 40

    I only put “No Gifts” on adult b-day party invites. It just doesn’t feel right otherwise. And usually people respect it. In fact, I usually just say, “Bring a funny card that makes you think of so and so.” That way they can bring something. Win-win.

    But kids? Always gifts. Always.

  41. Mrs. L 41

    My dear, didn’t you know? Dishes and Shoes are necessities, one can never have too many. Hot Wheels and Legos are toys, which one usually has too many of. See the difference? :)

  42. Jane 42

    And all the mothers said “AMEN!”
    I, and I suspect legions of other women, are right with you on this subject. You voiced my opinion of these things exactly.

  43. delia 43

    Oh yes, it is a power trip. I totally agree with you!

  44. Sara 44

    I hear you, I always feel like I need to bring something.

  45. Marcy 45

    I’ve never put those words on any invitation I’ve sent out. However, people have brought siblings without asking, and expected them to get the same giftbags, food, and everything else that the invited partygoers got, which would have been fine had I planned for them…
    I wouldn’t be so rude to put no siblings, but i mean come on, at least ask the party giver!
    and no candy at a halloween party? oh puhleeeese give me a break!

  46. leslie 46

    No I can understand “no Gifts” at a 80th birthday party. But for a kids party..NO WAY. Kids live for presents. I dont buy my kids toys during the year. They get them at Christmas and their birthday. So bring on the toys!

  47. Bunny 47

    Sometimes I think the parents that write no gifts for a kids birthday party need to remember what it was like to be the kid having the birthday. It’s just as exciting for the birthday kid as it is for the gift giving kid to have a gift!

  48. Liz C. 48

    Goog God! Why would you put yourself through the hell of having a birthday party without the joy of gifts? Granted, we’ve been to many adult parties over the years that requested no gifts, which is perfectly understandable. But, why not just call it a party? In all the years our kids were growing & going to parties, we never once received an invite with no presents please. Sounds like a Mommie Dearest/California thing to me, lol.

    We recently received a highschool graduation announcement that had a little insert saying “in lieu of presents, prayers & blessings are welcome” Huh? What graduate doesn’t want some pocket money or a gift card? It’s the parents making these decisions, not the one with a reason to celebrate. I think it’s ridiculous but I’m sure they had the best intentions. Still, it sounded like what you’d say in a funeral announcement. “In lieu of flowers….”

    I’m beginning to think the Politically Correct thing is getting waaaaay out of hand.

  49. 2Chicks 49

    Thank you for writing this post! I couldn’t agree more. We all need to remember that these parties are for the kids.

  50. KJ 50

    If I got an invite saying ‘no gifts made in China’ I would buy them something made in Tawain instead. Really – people choose and give gifts to bring joy, if you are going to start sniping over where it was made you don’t deserve it.

  51. Julie 51

    Oh man, I just got one of those too. It is kinda stressful. I’m going with the small token of a gift that hopefully the kid will like so he will have something to open.

  52. The other day when my son received a ‘no gift’ birthday party invitation I decided to bake the kid his favorite cupcakes and did invite him camping with us. His friend was really happy.

    If I throw a birthday party for my husband I do say on the invitation:
    Don’t bring food or gifts but a bottle of red wine would be appreciated. Last time I did that everyone was happy to come and said that it was so easy to shop for my husband.

  53. TOTALLY agree. Even when my daughter got an invite that said all the gifts would go to charity…everyone brought TWO gifts, one for charity, one for the child.

  54. Debbie 54

    Hum I like the no gifts thing. At my age and my friend’s ages we either have what we want or can purchase what we want. I go to the party to enjoy the company, food and what not. I do bring a bottle of wine but that isn’t a gift. Usually bring a small hostess gift like candle or soap but mainly that is for the wife of our friend who really did all the work. She is the one that deserves the gift!

  55. You made me laugh. I love your opinions. When I first got married I invited my husband’s family to Christmas dinner and I gave a $6 candle to his sister. She just looked at me sternly and said, We said” no gifts.” I come from a huge gift giving family and this was a Christmas without MY family. I was hurt and felt chastised. I got mad. I got drunk. The candle fell over against my antique buffet and burned it, leaving a blackened streak. Every time I look at that burn mark I remember the day I was told “no gifts.” You brought this all back to me. Now I give gifts from my heart whenever I please. Thanks for the post.

  56. Debbie 56

    I can understand why adults would write no gifts when the party if for the adult but not when it comes to children’s parties. Children love receiving presents and that a is a big part of the fun for children on their birthday!

  57. Lisa 57

    OK, I’ll admit…I may be the wierdo here, but I like the no gift thing. I think we’ve over done it in our society.

    We did the gift thing for my son’s 3rd. We’re STILL swimming in all the presents. Really, it was almost obscene. For his 4th we did the, “in lieu of gifts, please consider a donation to Alex’s Lemonade Stand”. Nobody, including my son, felt ripped off. We had a great birthday!

    One of his friend’s did a book exchange and that was great too. The parent’s wrote something along the lines of, “we have so many toys thanks to the generosity of grandparents, friends etc. Please consider bringing a book for a book exchange”. I so apprecieated that one. Instead of the (now) obligatory gift bag, the children could pick a book to take home. A far better take away imo.

  58. tipper 58

    Sounds crazy! I’ve never seen a birthday invitation that said to not bring presents. For kids-thats kinda the point.

  59. If I host a party for myself (which is rare) I usually request no gifts – mostly because it’s embarrassing enough when I have to be the center of attention, and the prospect of people going further out of their way with presents would just make me agog with guilt. I think this is the deep, dark Scandinavian half of my personality, where even parties are a reason to be depressed….

    When I’m at an adult’s party and it says “No Gifts” I have rarely seen anybody arrive with a gift – and most of the time it’s a relation or very close friend (as opposed to close acquaintance) of the honoree. At a kids party though? “No Gifts” is a joke, except that nobody is laughing….

  60. It just doesn’t seem right going to a party empty handed. Don’t think I could do it.

  61. elra 61

    Apparently this statement is becoming more common over the pass year. I don’t know why, but I also received so many invitation with similar statement. I on the other hand never bother to put “no gift” words to my invitation. I figure, any gift is valuable gift. And you are absolutely right, that children especially love gift, no matter what is it. I guess the thrill of opening the gift wrapper for them is really exiting. So, you make the right decision my dear!
    Have a wonderful one.

  62. annbb 62

    Never thought of it that way…and it makes a LOT of sense!

  63. Yeah exactly, what you said so, um when do I get a present? I love presents.

  64. Susan 64

    For my husband’s 50th surprise party, I wrote ‘no gifts please….but if you want to buy a gag gift please buy him a pair of boxer shorts, size large’. They are 1. inexpensive 2. made in a large variety of fun patterns and 3. something he can actually use! He had a great time opening them…and is still wearing them to this day. My MIL said ‘I am not buying underwear for my son’ and my mother said ‘I had such a great time picking a pair out’. She bought him snoopy boxers. I was afraid our new neighbors (conservative, religious people) would be offended…but they got in on the act too!

  65. Kayola 65

    Loved this post and couldn’t agree with you more…

    I have missed reading your posts for the last few days and am going now to catch up…you are such a favorite of mine…

  66. Diamond Buyers 66

    Hi,
    One of also had nice little surprises for our wedding party people, like our bridesmaids and groomsmen for instance. I bought for the ladies in my wedding party and my fiance chose the guys gifts, which were adorable little ceramic wedding gifts for the girls and really neat looking cowboy steins for the guys. As far as a gift for our ring boy and flower girl, we found adorable little tee shirts that said ‘flower girl’ and ring bearer’on them. Our friends and family and everyone in our wedding party seemed to be very impressed with our choice of wedding favor gifts for each of them.

  67. Mary Ellen 67

    Looks like I’m a little in the minority here, but it seems presumptuous to me to bring a gift if the host asked that no gifts be given. I think if you can’t respect the host’s request, you should decline the invitation. Who knows why the host made the request; it’s not up to me to second-guess it and say oh, all kids love presents so I’m going to bring one.

    And why would you be embarrassed if other people bring gifts and you didn’t? You’re the one who respected your host’s request. Just be yourself and quit paying so much attention to what other people do.

    Of course, I’ve thought for years that all this kids’ party stuff has gotten way out of hand. I think everybody—including the kid— would be a lot happier if we limited kids’ birthday celebrations to cake and one or two presents with immediate family.

  68. Not having kids I guess, spared me from this… but if & when I receive an invite with some “instructions” on it, I tend to follow them. I do agree with you on the “fun” aspect of it all is to open gifts, for ANYONE who gets one!

  69. snowmoonelk 69

    Blimey! Is this an American thing??? Never heard of it here, in good old Blighty! God Bless America!

  70. Shan 70

    So glad to see this written about. I HATE “No Gifts”! And for kids? What the heck?? If it sez it for an adult party – I arrive only with the gift of good conversation. I also do not want to be told what sort of gift is acceptable or to whom a donation should be given. You want something in particular? Go whole hog (pardon the pun) and be gauche. Say “Gimme nothing South of William and Sonoma – and make sure it fits in with my decor or I will toss it.” If I want to donate to a charity, I will pick it. Grrrr.

  71. I’ve experienced this one from the hostess and giver perspective. As the hostess, I asked for no gifts for my parents’ anniversary party because I knew they wouldn’t want a fuss, but of course some people did bring gifts. That made it really bad for the folks who did not. I feel guilty about the whole mess 13 years later.

    From the giver perspective, I honored a “no gifts” and gave a little informal gift. I felt like a heel because everyone else gave great gifts.

    Each Christmas, some friends agree no gifts, but then one still gives wonderful gifts. So, I’m not paying attention to the no gifts next year.

    Shirley

  72. Woo hoo! Bring a gift and wrap it with paper made in China and decorate it with candy! Sprinkle a little sugar on top just to ensure it will be the first gift the recipient opens!

  73. Debbie 73

    No gifts? I see your dilemma. Legos and Hot Wheels abound in my attic. Still. He is almost 23! He’s probably ready to part with them, but not me.

    Congrats on your win at MPM!

  74. Rachael J. 74

    Amen, sister! It’s a freaking birthday party. They have gotten out of control. I know the big thing is now to NOT open the gifts at the party, but I have something to say about that. If the party is too big to open ALLLLL of those presents, then the party is TOO big. I practiced this at my 10 year olds party in April, he opened everything after everyone left…it was a little anti-climatic. For my 5 year olds recent bday party I invited 7 kids…ONLY SEVEN people…they opened the presents and when I say they, I mean THEY…they all had so much fun helping my son open the presents and oohing and ahhing over what they saw. You could tell how proud the kids were of their gifts they had picked out and brought. He never even noticed how few kids were there…he had so much fun with everyone.

  75. Laura 75

    This is very wise–and gives me a lot to think about. My eldest (will be 4) is having the first party with kids in a few weeks. I wanted to say no gifts bc I felt bad, like really we just want kids we are not asking for gifts. But my husband was like duh that is part of a bday party. And he was right so I let it go. Now I see I was right to because you are right, it only causes the attendee stress. And FWIW, I invited their whole families as well.