I threw a birthday party yesterday. It was a pitiful affair. I made a box of confetti brownie mix in lieu of a cake, grabbed a Bop It and some Star Wars Pop Rocks as a gift, and had the kids sign a card for the birthday boy. That was it. It was pretty meek. But in my defense, it wasn’t even my kid.
My boys have a neighborhood friend with whom they play regularly. He’s a nice kid, and I don’t mind him coming over. Well, usually. He has a tendency to just walk into our house unannounced. Admittedly, I could do without that. But be that as it may, he has a good rapport with my boys. They play football, baseball, and basketball together, depending on the season. They go trick-or-treating together on Halloween. He somehow made it into a family picture on Christmas Day. He’s somewhat ubiquitous.
When he was over on Saturday, he asked if the boys could go to his birthday party the next day. Only problem was, there was no party actually planned. His family isn’t one to do that sort of thing. So as a counter offer, I told him he could come here and we’d throw him a party ourselves.
I could tell when he arrived. My girls were outside drawing with sidewalk chalk, and when he approached, they started shouting, “Happy Birthday!” He entered the house all smiles. Our whole family sang “Happy Birthday” and he blew out one candle on his brownie. We ate the brownies and gave him his gift. He promptly ate the pop rocks and the boys had a Bop It contest to see who could get the highest score. Then they went outside to play baseball as usual. All told, the entire “party” took less than 20 minutes. But when he left, he turned to me and said, “I like my present.”
That simple comment stuck with me. In an age of Pinterest-inspired birthday parties and wish lists from kids that include things like phones and video games, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the “bigger is better” mentality. We want to give our kids amazing memories and cool gifts. But what they really want— no, what they need—is to know they are loved and valued. This kid didn’t require much to make him happy. The fact that we made the effort to bake brownies and invite him over made his day. He felt important. He knew we cared.
Don’t get me wrong—I have nothing against themed birthday parties or buying nice gifts for your kids. But don’t overdo it. They’re actually much easier to please than you might think. They want your attention more than anything else. Rather than get them a video game they can play on their own, take them bowling or fishing. Show them you value them and like to spend time with them. That’s what they really want.
I have another birthday party coming up in a week. This times, yes, it’s for one of my own kids. It’s not going to be an amazing, Pinterest-worthy party by any stretch, though I’ll do better than I did for yesterday’s party. I don’t have all his gifts picked out yet, but I’m not stressing out over that. Matter of fact, I think one of his gifts just might be a Bop It.