Jake came home from school this week with an invitation to a birthday party. The girl who invited him had chosen to have her bash at a local karate school. The kids will spend an hour or two in a giant, padded room, rolling on the floor, punching foam-filled bags and beating each other senseless. Sounds a lot like a room I would like to build in my house, but I would add a big drain in the middle, so we could just throw food in there at mealtime and then hose the thing down once the kids had stuffed their pie holes.
But we’re not buying anything this year. So I’ll either have to let my dream die. Or build it out of garbage.
Meredith’s party is in a couple of weeks. At breakfast this morning, Gabby mentioned that we needed to think of a gift that Jake can give the birthday girl. This had totally slipped my mind, as most details do. Luckily Gabby does the advance planning for us. If I was a single dad, I wouldn’t remember a gift until we were in the parking lot. Meredith would be receiving some pocket lint and a bag of ketchup packets we have crammed in the glove box.
But what do you get a kid when you can’t buy any stuff? This is something we didn’t think of ahead of time when we created our rules for the year. The rules state that “gifts must be in the form of charitable donation or ‘experience gifts’ to build connections and memories.”
But that’s not what most six-year-olds want.
I started thinking of the reaction Jake might get if he gave her the gift my folks got us at Christmas – a donation to Oxfam, the proceeds of which are used to buy a goat for someone in a developing country. We loved the gift. It's such a great concept! But I could see our little guy sheepishly (pun intended) handing a card to little Meredith.
“What’s this?” she would ask.
“It’s a goat.”
“No it’s not. A goat can’t fit in an envelope.”
“It’s a card that talks about how I bought you a goat.”
“Where’s my goat?”
“He’s not here.”
“When do I get him?”
“He lives with some other guy.”
“Why did he take my goat?”
“He didn’t take it. I gave it to him. My dad says he needs a goat really bad.”
“So for my birthday, you gave me a goat, and then stole it back and gave it one of your dad’s friends.”
“Pretty much. Happy Birthday!”
* Is this a b-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-d gift?
I would be shocked if our son didn’t receive a wedgie within ten minutes. I hear they teach that at karate school now. My brain is starting to awfulize this scenario as we speak. It starts with giving a goat. Then the wedgie. Then he’s not picked for the dodge ball game. Next, no one will accept his invitation to prom. He drops out of school. Can’t get a job. Moves back in with us. Refuses to shower. Starts collecting cats. Not figurines, but real cats. Dies sad and alone at 58, found sprawled out on his couch wearing dirty sweatpants and eating a bag of generic cheese curls watching Wheel of Fortune reruns.
It’s a slippery slope.
Another option is to go with an “experience gift.” But that’s not a simple as it sounds. A movie ticket doesn’t cost much, but it fails the “build connections” piece. A trip to a children’s museum is good, but it’s pretty expensive, and I’m cheap. And, is it really a gift to give someone a ticket to something that requires their parents to buy two or three more tickets at twenty bucks a pop to accompany their kid? Sure, Meredith could go it alone, but I think Child Protective Services frowns upon that sort of thing.
A third option is no gift at all. I’m sure Jake wouldn’t mind. The funny thing is, Meredith probably wouldn’t notice either. Those of us with children know that kids can hardly remember what gifts they received last Christmas. Heck, we adults can hardly remember the gifts we received last month.
The truth is, this dilemma is more about Gabby and me. We want to live out our values as best we can, knowing we are a walking contradiction. Stuck in our own heads. Wondering how others might react. Wanting to do the right thing, but not wanting to force our values on other people. Trying to overcome the pull that “stuff” has on us, and the meaning we give to that “stuff.”
But back to the gift.
Still not sure what we’ll do. Make a gift? Do a science experiment with the kid? Make a balloon animal for her? Other ideas are welcome. Maybe a certificate for an ice cream cone at Baskin Robbins?
Yeah. Ice cream. A great "experience" gift! Unless you're with me. I may be getting good at not buying stuff, but I stink at sharing.