Bean turned 3 a few weeks ago. I struggled with what to do for her birthday, and all she wanted was a purple dinosaur cake. So we did the cake, hubby and I got her a new trike, and at the last minute we invited over 2 of her closest friends. That’s right, just 2. And we asked them not to bring gifts. (Oh! the scandal!)
One of the guests did as I asked. No gifts. But her kids (all 4 of them) colored pictures for Bean – and that meant the world to her. The other mom felt the need to buy a gift, and I can understand that. But Bean loved her birthday – she got some books and a few toys from family members, she had her purple dinosaur cake, and most importantly, she had a blast playing with her closest friends. And for some reason, when I talk to other moms, I always feel the need to justify the fact that we did a small party. And I don’t even tell people that we asked for no gifts… what would they think?!
Today we went to the 3rd birthday party of one of Bean’s classmates. For her 3rd birthday there were about 15 kids, and double that number of adults. There were so many kids that we never really saw the birthday girl. They rented a bounce house, had a kitchen full of pizza delivered, and then brought the kids inside to open presents. And let me tell you, there were more presents than I could have imagined. A whole room full of presents. And that 3 year old went through them like wild fire. Opened one, looked at it, said “oooh, wow!” and then was ready to move on. There was one moment as she was opening her gifts when I thought that my kids were missing out. I mean, this little girl was getting oodles of dresses and princess costumes and pajamas and games and toys – there was nothing she didn’t have. And my kids’ lives will never be like that. So for a brief moment I thought that I should be proving more for my kids.
And then I realized that as I watched the birthday girl, she had no interest in most of it. She wasn’t very thankful. Sure, her mom was modeling the perfect amount of excitement over every gift. Mom was telling her to say thank you to the proper people at the proper time. But the birthday girl couldn’t care less. In fact, she kept trying to escape from the onslaught of toys and gifts to go back outside and play.
Gifts and toys aren’t what my kids need. I’m glad those parents gave their little girl a memorable third birthday – and got it all on film. I’m glad they did the bounce house – all the kids loved it. But I’m quite happy with Bean’s 2-invitee party. And I’m still happy that I asked people not to bring gifts. She doesn’t need them. She didn’t miss them. And sitting at this party today, she didn’t even notice that there was a whole room full of gifts. There was no jealous green monster wondering why some kids have more ‘stuff’ than others. That’s not what she needs. She needs time. That’s her love language. Quality time. Attention. To be listened to and have her opinions and thoughts validated. She needs a safe place to explore who she is and what’s important to her. And to know that she’s loved, even when her behavior isn’t at its most lovable.
I don’t know what we’ll do next year. I don’t know if her parties will continue to be this small. I don’t know if I’ll ask people again not to bring gifts. I think that might get harder as she gets older. There will things that she wants. She’s an awfully observant kid. But one of the values I want my kids to have is longing. Not wanting everythin, or being jealous about what others have. But knowing what you truly want, and being willing to hold out for it. I don’t want them to have instant gratification – to get everything they want. It’s more important for them to always be reaching for something. Is that so terrible? I think it will serve them better in the long term than tens of their friends bringing truckloads of toys. There’s something special about a celebration, and gift-giving is an important thing in any child’s life, as is learning to receive gifts with thankfulness. But there’s something about a hopeful expectation, and being able to discern between things of value and just plain ‘stuff.’ That’s what I want my kids to know.