There’s a new trend in kids’ birthday parties: to forgo birthday gifts in lieu of donations to a favorite charity. Kids have a party, invite their friends and collect donations from friends. Both my kids have attended such parties, bringing, instead of gifts for the birthday kiddos, donations for underprivileged kids and animal shelters.
What a nice idea, I thought. Maybe we should do that. Yet, it didn’t seem like the type of thing to suggest. It would need to be their idea.
Both of my kids are pretty generous souls. They care about and want to help others.
They’re also spoiled, by some standards.
For instance, by the standards by which I was raised, they are in the Richie Rich category. I worked for my savings, which came to me in increments of cents, not dollars. My allowance was, get this, a quarter a week, and it took me an entire month to save up a dollar. I saved money to buy myself a not-so-gently-used bike at a garage sale. I waited until my birthday for things I wanted, but didn’t need — things like name brand shoes. A shopping trip with my grandmother was the sole means by which I was likely to have the “it” item to wear to school.
So when my birthday rolled around, that was my only chance to obtain non-necessities. My birthday was my annual paycheck, and it would have been quite hard to forfeit it in the name of generosity.
However, my kids, to the chagrin of my parents, have relatively easy access to most things. We provide their phones. Mind you, they’re bottom-of-the-line, cheap phones, and my daughter’s has a cracked screen, but we provide those. If they need a bike, we hunt one down. It might be a hand-me-down, but we buy it, not them. They have clothes to choose from, shoes they like, and access to make money, if a new game or other item catches their eye.
Do they know how to work hard? Yes, theoretically.
But having plenty does open up other opportunities for learning, such as learning how to make an impact. And it was wonderful to see that come to fruition when my daughter announced she wanted no gifts for herself for her birthday. She asked if we could, instead, collect donations for HELP Humane, the shelter where Santa chose our kitty more than three years ago.
We chose to host a “driveway drive,” an open invitation to come to our house, visit in our driveway, enjoy cake, and drop off donations for the shelter. Friends, family and neighbors were generous, and we ended up with a mound of cat litter, food, cleaning supplies, toys, blankets, and other goodies from the shelter’s wish list. She received one group gift from the family, and the rest was donations.
My daughter and I planned our donation dropoff, and I saw disappointment flash briefly over her face.
“So, I guess I don’t get a bunch of gifts this birthday,” she said. Then added, “But this is what I asked for.”
At the shelter, she and a couple of her friends dragged bags of kitty litter half their weight into an pile in the office. The staff gushed, especially delighted by a couple of new brooms and dust pans. We visited the shelter residents, which included elderly and disabled cats. She saw how the supplies we donated would be used, and the many cats that would benefit.
Later, when we were home, she announced her intentions of doing the same thing again.
We all learn different lessons in life, many of which are dictated by circumstances. Many come from struggle, but many can also come from the simple freedom to follow our hearts.
Reach Overland Park mom Emily Parnell at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter:@emilyJparnell.