Updated: Jun 22
It’s June which is for our friend group, the height of birthday party season. When invited to a party, I have seen three options for gifts: the amazon wish list (attached to an electronic evite), a “your presence is our present” note of some kind, or no mention of gifts. More and more I am seeing the amazon wish list. I have looked through them. I see the appeal. The parent scrolls, clicks and it arrives boxed, ready to go; a thirty second process*.
I opt to be a rebel. I see the getting of the gift to be a process, an opportunity to connect with my daughter and also to benefit the birthday child. I ask my daughter “what does he/she like to play?”. That is all it takes. Kate is really into puppies. She talked about puppies every time I see her. She draws the eyes like this”. Or, Augustus is a detective. He dresses with a belt to hold his tools and when we are outside he looks for clues to…..” and the stories pour out.
The ideas start on paper. Then they turn into an art project related to the child’s interest. The handmade card embodies the child’s interests and includes tidbits from what she has learned about them. I see drawings of trees, and seas of green in the wrapping paper choices. “Why so much green”, I ask. “When our teacher asked us what we imagine ourselves as, he said he would be a tree”.
We go to our local arts and crafts store. It’s an independent store that has been around for decades. It takes me back to my childhood. Our art store had a basement with cement floors, isles of gimp, sculpty, wood pieces, cloth. She runs with excitement through the isles sharing details from play with these children. I know their favorite colors, hear quotes, and listen as she imagines what they would do with each item she choses. She asks the sales people questions.
In our neighborhood we go to our neighbor’s yard sale. She finds plastic ‘armor’ because one child loves “anything involving fighting and battles”. She counts her money, and our neighbor sweetly offers her a deal. She and my neighbor chat about the party we are going to and she tells her about her friend and why he will enjoy these specific toys, previously enjoyed by her child. She smiles at my daughter nostalgically. She remembers when her daughter was this age. She closes her eyes and looks at me. “She is so sweet. I remember when….(insert story). We smile at each other the way mamas do; we savor these moments. We won’t remember them all, but in the moment, we hold on. We feel them. We soak up the joy.
We go home and compile all of the treasures. My daughter marvels at the variation of items.
She lists them all with anticipation of how her friend will enjoy each one. Together, these items make a shape so unlike a cube that books depict as gift-shape. She problem solves how to fit them into a wrap-able package. It takes time. It takes multiple trials. She figures it out. She asks for assistance at the end. We finished it together. She smiles. “There”. She picks it up, “let’s go”. When we arrive, she carries that gift with pride, with joy, with excitement for her friend.
I know. Doing it this way takes time. But, it is also what makes life with our children rich. I hear parents say “I have no idea what my child’s school days are like. I don’t know what goes on at school”. If your child goes to school, to camp, to an activity and spends lots of time with children you do not know, this is one way that you can learn about them, about what they talk about, what they play. It’s an open ended way to create dialogue with movement, with action. Making the gift, the card and allowing it to take time creates connection.
When a child sees a present with handmade qualities, it allows the personality of each child to develop and shine through. If children were supported in this simple but meaningful action, they would get to know each other's styles, expressive nature, and allow for creativity that they can really own. These gifts allow children to use their imaginations, to be creative, to use that energy to be themselves. Too often, toy companies tell children how to play with toys. The children are simply following directions. They need specific pieces. Or now they want another (collection toys such as squishymallow). I am not saying there is no place for such toys. However, it is likely that those toys will make their way to the friends of your child. It's okay if it is not via you.
People put their children in activities to learn “life skills”. These opportunities pop up in everyday life if we give them the time they require. Birthday gifting is one that we have the opportunity to support how many times a year? 20? 25? 30? This applies to friends, grandparents, neighbors and other people. This is also a way to connect with people that may live far away that you wish your child could connect with. You may be the one sharing stories in this case. The 20-30 times a year you gift a card or physical present is a lot of practice. With practice becomes efficiency. Independence. So, while I can, I savor being involved in this process. Be a rebel with me?
It also builds skills: Executive functioning (planning, organizing, sequencing). Fine motor. Math (counting money). Social skills (speaking with sales people, neighbors). Problem solving (how much money to use, making choices, wrapping an item that is not boxed). Theory of Mind (what other’s experience, our perception). Time management. Writing. Visual Perceptual (fitting, organizing, placing).
*Disclaimer: NO JUDGEMENT. Benefits of wish list: not getting duplicate toys, toys you do not want, toys with a million pieces that suck to clean up. There are lots of pros to wish lists and this is no way a criticism of them. This post is one other side to the coin. To each their own!