For years, I was the mom that included “your presence is your present” or something like that on any birthday party invitations. And I meant it–I want birthday parties to first and foremost be about celebrating with friends, and not about acquiring more stuff. I’ve been to way too many little kid birthday parties where the ceremonial ripping open of presents was altogether too much the center of the festivities.
But as my kids have grown, my perspective has shifted. And it’s not just because they’ve gotten bigger, though that’s part of it. In those early years, birthday parties were often big family affairs, with a large circle of friends and their families attending. In the past couple of years, though, both the girls have started to opt for smaller parties with a small number of close friends. This means that the guests are a group of kids who both know my daughters well and genuinely want to pick out a special gift for them. Who am I to put the kabbosh on that?
And Cate–who had a birthday party this weekend–is especially not a “thing” girl. Unlike her sister, she is rarely feeling wanty for stuff that she sees, and was hard pressed to come up with suggestions for birthday gifts that she would like. (In this way, she most definitely takes after her father, and not me!) So her friends were left somewhat on their own to figure out what might make a good gift.
To be honest, the results were various and amazing. Books and do-dads and toys that reflect a deep knowing of my girl. Beautiful handmade art and embellished textiles.Veterinarian playmobil, a pointe shoe key chain, pizza scratch-and-sniff stickers, carefully selected animal figurines, a dog-print glasses case. Really special handmade cards, along with a book made by a friend entitled, “Things We Love About Cate.”
I am so thankful for these girls and their presence in Cate’s life. Part of it is certainly that all of these girls are somewhat insulated from the tweeny pop cultural influences of school, so that at ten they are still very much children. I’m glad that Cate is beginning to flirt with teenagerhood in this context, which is not rushing her towards adulthood prematurely. But more than that, I was struck at this party that Cate has something that I couldn’t have imagined at her age. When I was in fourth grade (and indeed throughout elementary school), social life was immensely complicated and often difficult. I was a smart and somewhat socially awkward child, and I struggled to find my way socially. I am so grateful that things are so different for Cate. It’s not just that she has a social life that is friendly and low-stress (which she does); at ten, she has a group of friends who genuinely know and love her. Love her! How amazing is that.
And that, of course, is the best gift of all.