Tomorrow it is my youngest son’s birthday, and his daddy’s too. Four years ago, at seven thirty in the morning, drowsily propped up in my bed, I nursed my new little son and ate the birthday brownies which arrived in the post for Hugh, thanks to lovely Aunty Alice. Two weeks early, Leo took us all by surprise, but I finally had four children! My older three, then aged two, six and eight munched and cooed and cuddled as we all wallowed in that delicious, sublime morning.
Later Hugh’s mum called to wish him Happy Birthday, blissfully unaware of her new grandson. Hugh asked her to guess what his favourite birthday present was.
‘Was it the screwdriver I sent you dear?’ she asked innocently.
How could anything compare to the mysterious wonder of the new little soul arrived in our midst? Hugh will love his favourite birthday present forever!
But will the gifts Leo and Hugh receive tomorrow still hold any interest or value in even four months time? Possibly, but possibly not..they are just things. Sometimes presents just seem like so much stuff to me. I cannot deny that there is a magic in witnessing a child’s excitement and joy on opening a special birthday gift and taking their time to explore and love it and make it their own. Where is the magic however, in watching a child rip through a mountain of presents, discarding them as soon as they are open?
The giving of gifts becomes a meaningless gesture. It provides a momentary rush of excitement for the child, only to be replaced by the odd uncomfortable feeling of being overwhelmed, overexcited and slightly ‘full.’ Unable to interpret the discomfort, the only remedy seems to be for the child to ask for more and feel anguish when there is not.
I love celebrating birthdays and I do always buy a present for my kids, but just one, a special one. Reducing presents coming in from outside is an ongoing process but increasingly being met with understanding.
What makes a birthday meaningful?
Ceremony and ritual sound a little formal, and we’re certainly not solemn around birthdays, but doing certain things together seems to nourish the birthday girl (or boy) more than a heap of presents. At breakfast I make sure that the table is set with cloths, flowers and candles and make a throne for the special person to sit on. A nice breakfast is important.. tomorrow it’s croissant..shh!
A tradition I’m planning to start is for everyone else to think of one thing they love or appreciate about the birthday celebrant. Depending on the age this can cause a bit of squirming but a birthday is a chance to focus with love and gratitude on one person and make that person feel special. Cuddles and stories are good too! And then there’s the party!
I’m sure other people have beautiful rituals they follow for their kid’s birthdays.. have you? I’d love to hear ideas (sensitive and loving) on avoiding the swamp effect of gifts from lovely well meaning relatives too.