The Ninety-First Letter: Birthdays Are Not the Most Important Thing

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Dear Daughters,

Flashback to the morning of the eldest’s birthday:

Bean: My birthday is the best day of the whole year.

Me: What about Christmas?

Bean: Jesus was born.

Me: What about Easter?

Bean: Jesus rose from the dead.

Me: Yeah, so I think you won’t be getting your birthday into the top two days of the year any time soon. Sorry.

And then you told me that your dad had basically said the exact same thing to you last night.

So he and I are on the same page. #parentingwin

Girls, you’ve both had birthdays in the last few weeks. I love that you have them less than two weeks apart. And they’re bookended by birthdays of one of your grandpas and one of your grandmas. It makes it feel like this is “birthday season,” in addition to the Kentucky Derby, the college graduation, your piano recital, Mothers Day… sigh. So. Many. Things.

We didn’t have a party, but I did try to go out of my way to make sure you felt special, because I know we don’t do a lot of gifts. (Intentionally so, but more on that later.)

You got to drink chocolate milk in the morning, which is unusual for house, even though I’m pretty sure you know other kids get it regularly. You got to pick your birthday dinners and the colors of your birthday cake—hotdogs and macaroni and cheese and grapes and a purple cake with pink icing; pancakes and egg casserole followed by vanilla cake with white icing—and we had our sweet friends over to share it with us. We had small presents for you both—plastic dinosaurs and playdoh; artsy science books and a nature journal—and our friends made themed birthday hats for us related to your interests of dinosaurs and birds. In fact, I am not exaggerating when I tell you that there is still a giant dinosaur helium balloon floating around the ceiling on the first floor that your crazy aunts brought us. Also, we did a family trip to a local animal reserve on the weekend between your birthdays; on the eldest’s actual birthday, we met some friends at the local orchard.

My point is this: we do celebrate birthdays. I feel like we celebrate them and celebrate you a lot. Just not in the presents and party sort of way that has unfortunately become the norm. (I’m not talking just in a social media out in the wide world kind of norm, but in our very own community kind of way.)

And so also this point: birthdays are not the most important thing, and if I’m going to fault on the side of anything, it’s going to be under-celebrating, rather than over-celebrating.

Not all of my mom friends agree with me. In fact, I’m pretty sure they think I’m weird on this thing.

Recently the eldest announced matter-of-factly, “Some people get hundreds of birthday presents.” It actually really bothered me that you’d said this, and I wasn’t sure how to respond. I asked what you meant. You gave me the example of one of your friends’ birthday parties from a few years ago. Though there weren’t hundreds of presents at the party, it did seem excessive to me at the time, and I remember having to explain to you that there are lots of ways to celebrate birthdays. I tried to make excuses for the excess. There was an entire table of presents, a small cart of presents, presents piled under the table, and a new bicycle.

Girls, let me just clear the air: don’t ever think I’m going to let you open that many presents at one time.

That will never happen. Not on your birthday. Not on Christmases. (Okay, maybe someday if you have a baby shower or a wedding shower, but I kind of hope that I’m raising you to never want so much stuff.)

I love you very much, and your community loves you very much, and of course I’m teaching you that God loves you very much, but I promise you this: you are not that special.

In addition to being opposed to the consumerism of birthdays, the excess of the parties and gifts, I am worried about how that center-of-attention, open-all-the-presents type of party shapes children’s understanding of themselves, of how love should be expressed, and of how God calls them to live in the world among hurting people.

And I have once again crossed the line into preachiness. Sigh.

Girls, I don’t know how you’ll feel about our family traditions once you’re older. You might remember pangs of jealousy when you see others opening a ton of presents on their birthdays, when you hear how much your friends got for Christmas. (I actually look forward to being able to chat with the grown-up you about these things in the same way my parents occasionally ask me how how I used to see the world when I was a kid.)
But there’s one more thing I want to write down for posterity’s sake, so that you can get a peek into my heart.

I would actually love to buy you all the presents and give you all the presents. I see things all the time that I know you would love. They are not crappy toys made overseas by slave workers. They are learning activities, art supplies, books and books and books, solid and well-built equipment, seriously beautiful toys. When I see things I know you would love, it is hard for me not to buy it for you. But I don’t buy it for you.
I don’t buy it for you for many reasons. One, because you really have enough, and I want you to learn what it means to have enough. Two, because I truly believe that your creativity will thrive when you are free to make and do and run and design and write your own narrative. Three, because I want you to love libraries, to love playing outside, to consider the possibilities of a cardboard box, rather than read instructions on a put-together toy. Even if that toy is amazing.

What I mean is this: I love to give you gifts. Don’t ever think that it’s because I don’t like shopping that you don’t have a lot of birthday presents. (I mean, I don’t like shopping, but that’s not the reason. We do have Amazon, after all!)

And for the record, I did buy too many gifts for you this year, but after wrapping them, I decided to put them aside to save. Some of them will be given by the tooth fairy over the next year. Some of them will go with us on an upcoming trip as a special travel treat. Some of them might make it until Christmas. We’ll see. But you didn’t get them for your birthday.

So you see, I do need to keep myself in check as well. There is a tendency when you love someone to want to give them more.

Always more.

And in our world, that “more” is usually more stuff. And fancy parties.

I’m working really hard for it not to be that way in our house. It does take work. And I’m guessing you’ll have a lot of things to say about that some day.

Love,
Your Momma

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