Covering parenting and child development issues
“If you want to see what children can do, you must stop giving them things.” (Norman Douglas)
My daughter’s birthday is this week. She doesn’t need anything, really, but that won’t stop us. She selected a few things while we were at the beach last summer, and we set those aside. In addition, there will be a couple of items that have become birthday mainstays, along with a few surprises.
Birthdays have always been a big deal at our house, a tradition that began in my parents’ home when my sister and I were growing up. Birthdays belonged to the person celebrating them, and that person was queen (or king) for the day. The presents were fun, of course, but the real gift was the feeling of infinite possibility born of the sense that the day belonged to you.
My husband comes from a much larger family where birthdays weren’t as much of a big deal, perhaps due to their sheer frequency. Maybe that’s why he’s usually the one who embraces our family celebrations and takes them to even higher levels.
The nice thing is, my daughter has reached the point in her life where she realizes how much she really has. While she’ll happily accept the gifts and celebration with her friends that we’ll provide, she doesn’t have a long list of must-haves. In fact, she casually mentioned that this year, she might want her friends to take the money they would have spent on her and donate it to an organization that needs it more than she does. As her birthday draws nearer, she may change her mind, but the fact that a fifteen-year-old only child would consider this option impresses me tremendously.
At fifteen, my daughter already realizes something that many of her peers do not - that there’s a whole world out there beyond the microcosm in which she lives. She’s by no means alone, of course - I know of other children, younger than my daughter, who’ve made this same birthday request, and others in her age bracket for whom community service is more than a school requirement. In fairness, these children do indeed have all that they need, but the fact that they realize it is a testimony both to them and to the atmosphere in which they’ve been raised.
And, it makes me hopeful for the future. Children who can see beyond their own horizons grow into adults with compassion for those around them. But, they can’t learn to value other people if we don’t first teach them to value themselves.
By next fall, my daughter will have forgotten much of what she unwrapped this year. And, some of the “things” she received will be long gone. But that doesn’t matter. What’s important is that she continues to carry with her a sense of her own self-worth, a gift I hope we give her every day, but one that remains the unspoken centerpiece of birthdays.