Well, today was the big day: the birthday party. (Note: no, the kid's birthday is not today. It's not even this month. Which, incidentally, comes in handy for privacy purposes, which I do consider once in a very great while.)
About ten small childrens gathered, were given some explorer gear, and raced off, delightedly clutching safari hats, to get into some trouble. The played with mirrors, lights, ping-pong balls and sand, which they poured in their hats, on the carpet and each other. It was rather perfect. Then they watched a grownup freeze balloons with liquid nitrogen, and I'm sure I saw some of the little buggers taking notes. 'Don't try this at home,' my aunt Fanny. Eventually, we corralled them around a long table, fed them some food with nutritional pretentions, and encouraged them to sing happy birthday to the more-or -less birthday boy. Most ignored us, some deigned to participate, and the grown-ups dutifully filled in the chorus. The birthday boy promptly hid his face in his cupcake. And then they all went home.
It was grand. It was triumphant. And nobody brought any presents. Ha! I had successfully side-stepped the whole birthday gift sinkhole of greed. My son was rescued from the evils of consumerism. I was a proud mama as I gently chivvied him up the stairs for a nap. But of course pride goeth before a....yup. And I know you saw that coming when you read the title of the post.
As we walked up the stairs, my small boy cluthcing his explorer bag, lovingly stamped with his very own name, he said to me, 'but where are my birthday presents?' Thinking fast, I pointed to the bag and said, 'there they are! Everybody got some.' He gave me the look that children use to indicate that their grownups are rather dim, and silently indicated that he had chosen to be tolerant of me. He then quietly went into his room and went to sleep, cuddling the bag.
I walked down the stairs, reflecting on that look. I realized two things: first, that looks like that are probably the reason that teenagers are so devastating to their parents. After all, a teenager can communicate whole, sarcastic paragraphs with a single shrug. They must spend years perfecting this skill, but clearly some competency can be achieved at a fairly young age.
Second, I realized that ultimately, I'm probably beat on this gift thing. Oh, yes, I'll spend a few more years trying a new approach, perhaps acknowledging the tradition but trying to revamp it somehow. Perhaps we'll try collecting books for underpriveleged kids next year, or toys for the kids at the local children's hospital. If you can't beat it, rework it, will be my motto. And if I'm very, very lucky, one of these reshapings will catch the kid's eye, and he'll get excited about it. More likely, to be honest, societal standards for behavior will win out here.
But for now, I'm still in there and swinging away.