After our first movie date, my son and I watched as the trolley of many, many, too many colourfully bright presents emblazoned with Birthday Wishes was pushed out the door of the movie theatre by the father of the birthday boy who trailed behind.
Another family approached as we exited and the little boy who was about my son's age, 4, smiled in delight, clapped his hands and exclaimed, "Ooooh presents!"
I laughed - everyone did. It was cute. He was an adorable kid. But something else, quite contrary to laughing, a twang of something else occurred inside my conscious...uncomfortable, uneasy.
My thoughts whirled...and I hate to seem like I'm preaching from somewhere up above...these are simply my thoughts, my feelings about...well....things. Because that's all presents are...things. Things that get broken, forgotten, left behind, thrown out. Sure there are certain objects that one holds on to for sentimental reasons. We all have them. It's the outward and upwards overabundance of 'these things' that we keep giving to our kids that concerns me.
Do you remember having bins and bins, boxes and boxes of toys in your house growing up? I don't.
Do you remember opening gift after gift after gift...after gift at your birthday parties? I don't. It's quite possible that I had presents but all I remember from my birthdays are the dresses I wanted to wear, the games, the cake and having fun with my friends. It was about the birthday experience.
Life, to me...and I hope to you, is about more than the 'things' we can buy for our children. For us.
Last year for Adrian's third birthday party I asked that people bring canned goods in lieu of presents. Some people still chose to bring presents. "Just something small." We were invited to a birthday party and they'd asked the same as I had. My husband felt strange not bringing a gift - it was a little girl's birthday after all. And I understood where he was coming from...we're so used to living in a world of 'stuff' and 'things' and and more, more, more. Or as the late Dr Seuss so succintly put it in the movie we'd just watched, 'biggering'. But I said, no, that we must respect the wishes of others. This something that is important to them. And it was important to me too when I asked the same.
This year, for Adrian's fourth birthday party, we did not ask for people to donate canned goods. Or anything for that matter. I felt a weirdness, an unease about this since last year I had asked that people not bring any gifts. However, my thoughts were that he is of the age where gifts are 'expected' at parties and he's a good boy who deserves gifts on his birthday. And while all this is true it still didn't feel good to me. It was completely against my better judgement and I immediately regretted not doing what my gut had told me to do. So with a stomach that felt like it was filled with stones he opened present after present...enthusiastically ripping one after the other open and tossing it to the side for the next...and the next....and the next. John and I kept up a consistent running reminders from, "Open up the card and we'll read it first. Let's see who it's from...' to 'What do you say to so and so - thank you...'
Manners, gratefulness, graciousness and respect. These are all important attributes that my husband and I wish to instill into our children. These are things that I hope all parents teach their child...failure on our part to do this risks raising a generation of rude, disrespectful, entitled boors...(in my opinion.) This is most definitely not how I wish to raise my sons. I'm sure you don't want to raise your children this way either. And as much as people can argue about the fact that their children have their own minds and personalities, when it comes to certain values and characteristics such as the four above...those are up to you. Up to us. Parents.
I kept seeing the toys pile up...not just in my house...but years...decades from now in our already terrifyingly large ever growing land fills.
My disappointment deepened as I pasted a smile on my face...thinking every time we had to remind him about his thank you's, "Oh it's just a stage...we have time to teach him appreciativeness."
But the time to teach him the values in which we wish to instill in him is right now. It's never too early for such lessons. Though they might not completely grasp the idea of what you're teaching them right away, eventually they will. Consistency and being pro-active is key.
At bedtime tell them what you're grateful for that day. Maybe it was the nice weather because you all got to play outside together. Or maybe you felt thankful for your warm jacket because it was quite chilly out when you were playing outside. It could be something as big as the roof over your head...or as small as the delicious snack you had with them before bed. After you've done this, ask them what they feel thankful for. They might surprise you. My son told me he was thankful for his cup of water (if only because it was what was in his hand at the time - it was a start). I told him water was a wonderful thing to be thankful for which opened up a small discussion about how some other countries in the world don't even have the luxury of clean drinking water. Whether this made any sense to him at this point I'm not sure. What I do know is that these are discussions that shouldn't be shied away from. I keep it simple. I don't want to scare my children or put their minds on overload, and one must be sensitive to what their particular child can and cannot handle especially before bed time. My belief is that they can handle more than you may give them credit for.
This is the time for us to teach our children our values, beliefs and expectations of them. This is it. It's called conscious parenting...teaching our children be socially conscious, environmentally aware and individually responsible. To be aware of the world around them and to realize it doesn't revolve around them. (although this is a very hard concept for pretty much all young children to grasp!)
I'm doing this not just for my children and the future of theirs and many generations to come...it's also a reminder to myself.
Because even us adults need to keep ourselves in check every so often.
If you have toys you need to get rid of:
Please do not throw out old toys (unless broken of-course or no longer in good condition) - consider donating to the many organizations out there that would welcome them.
If you wish to make a little bit of money, there are many sites online such as Ebay and Kijiji as well as consignment shops that accept gently used toys and clothing - my favourite being Once Upon A Child.
Ideas for moving away from people bringing presents to your child's birthday party:
Canned goods in lieu of birthday presents are always a good idea - food banks are always in need. Also, this is a fabulous idea! - A Toonie Party! You can donate to a good cause and your child gets to shop and pick out their own toy!
You can also go the way of online donations. There are many out there, I would highly suggest researching before recommending but also because it's very much a personal decision, the charities you prefer to support.