My elder son is about to turn 3, and I’ve had a few family members ask me what he would like for his birthday. When I was a child, I always remember having an acute awareness that money didn’t grow on trees. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t on the poverty line. My parents worked bloody hard, but despite this, they were far from rolling in it.
For a child, I remember being incredibly sensitive to the concept of money (or lack of), and never demanded toys when we went to the shops. We did have toys, but upon talking to my husband, it is clear that he and his sister had a huge array of the big toy fads from the 80s. They seemed to own all of the crazes, had huge piles of presents ready for them on Christmases and birthdays and were generally spoilt for choice when it came to childhood entertainment. This was a distinct contrast to our household.
Although I have absolutely no criticism of children being given lots of things if their parents have the means (you only live once, and hey, who am I to judge?), I do wonder whether so much materialism is ever necessary with little children. The reason why I ponder this is because I recall having such a great childhood with my brother. I can remember loads of crazy games we would play together, fuelled largely by our imaginations. We rode our bikes and played outdoors. We lived in the Caribbean for two years of our lives, and although I don’t actually remember any toys, I do remember having a lot of fun with my brother and cousins, playing group games out back on our land (or sometimes other peoples’ land) and really just making our own fun.
Because of my own childhood experiences and perceptions, I find it a little uncomfortable and unnatural answering the question ‘what shall we get Finley for his birthday?’. It feels as though I am asking for people to get him gifts that he essentially doesn’t need. Indeed, the other day my mother asked him what he would like for his birthday. His response was brilliant (and actually, I could have predicted it word for word);
“I want candles, cake, some cherries and a (jigsaw) puzzle.”
So surely that is proof that come his birthday, the only things he will be looking for are candles and cake, with some cherries on top, a new jigsaw puzzle and maybe even some company for him to do his jigsaw puzzle with. And if that is all an average 3-year old wants, then why condition him so early that birthdays are all about a mountain of gifts? For him, the magic of a birthday is still simple, and it seems like such a shame to tarnish that innocent sense of happiness with our materialistic expectations of birthdays.
But that’s just me, and by no means a symbol of my ingratitude to anyone that has taken the time, thought and money to purchase something for my son. I do understand that loved ones want to show their love by buying things. I just know that my two, going on three-year old loves nothing more than someone to build a ‘nest’ with, or draw a picture with, or play hide and seek with; and for him to have that all day (with some cake and candles) would be the most magical birthday for him.