Last night was something, huh?!?! Trivia question for the history buffs out there: who said, “our long national nightmare is over”? Anyone, anyone ? Bueller?
Okay. It was Gerald Ford, during his inauguration speech after Richard Nixon’s impeachment. Ford went on to say, “Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule. But there is a higher Power, by whatever name we honor Him, who ordains not only righteousness but love, not only justice but mercy.”
Even in periods of national turmoil or disappointment, in moments of upheaval and uncertainty, we survived thanks to our constitution and the rule of law. During the third debate, you had to scratch your head when Trump said he’d leave us in suspense, when asked whether or not he would concede if he lost. He doubled down at rallies today, saying his concession was contingent upon him winning. Honest to God, this post is not about the 3rd debate; it is about how we raise the next generation to not be a bunch of spoiled brats who have little regard for people or the policies that govern our companies or countries….it is about how we can actually come back to love, justice and mercy. Lord knows, the world does not need any more ‘Little Donald’s.’
About six years ago, we received our very first ‘NO GIFTS’ invitation for a birthday party. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, that’s really impressive.’ I fell in love with the concept of making a birthday about something other than the gifts….that is, until I walked into the door. OMG. You’d think you had entered FAO Schwartz in NYC. Not only did everyone bring a gift, but the bags and boxes all seemed to be on Hallmark steroids. I felt like such a complete moron, walking in with nothing. Nana. Zilch. Empty-handed. So, believe me when I say that it has not been a cake-walk (pardon the pun) in adopting a ‘no gifts’ approach to birthdays for our family.
MY BABY TURNS 6 TOMORROW
My little guy celebrates his birthday tomorrow. I swear that he’s been asking how many days till his birthday, for the last 6-9 months. He is the 3rd child, and he just can’t grow up fast enough (in his mind). So, this cutie patootie WILL get gifts. Dear Lord, I think he look for a new family if we took away the promise of those very specific Lego Bionicle sets on his wish list. But, the clock is ticking.
BIG GIRL EXPERIENCE
When our eldest turned 10, we decided it was time to adopt a ‘no gifts’ for birthdays approach. We explained that when you cross the ‘double digit’ threshold, you are entering a new phase of maturity. And, part of growing up, is to look beyond yourself in the way you see the world…to see not just what the world can give you, but what you can give back (I know, very JFK). We didn’t want to just say the words – we wanted her to experience the joy and see the virtue of giving over receiving.
When we sent-out the Evite to her friends, we explained the reasons why we were making this a ‘no gifts’ party. In addition, we provided links to charities that our daughter really liked, because of their work with education and helping girls. What a pleasant surprise when friends actually respected our request and donated to the organizations we had suggested. This was not like the party from preschool!
Full disclosure. We did the same thing when she turned 11 and we did get some gifts. But, with two years under our belt, we are now committed to a personal party policy (for age 10+) that says our kids will make birthdays a time to celebrate friendship. Period. And, to the extent that folks want to give, we will channel that generosity towards causes our kids are passionate about.
MAKE IT AGE APPROPRIATE
Looking back to the preschool party (where I walked away with a bit of PTSD), I think it’s hard to explain to preschoolers why there are no presents. Maybe it was a tad early to try ‘no gifts’…..maybe that’s why parents went ahead and brought something….or, maybe they didn’t want to end up like me, empty-handed. Whatever the case, I think it’s possible that trying this when kids are too young could back-fire. Ten seemed like the right age for our daughter….old enough to understand, but still young enough to make an impression. Our middle child will celebrate his 9th birthday in 2 months. (Note to self: better start talking about the policy so he’s not shocked in a year!!!) So, we shall see how this plays out, in terms of gender and maturity. Our plan is to stick with the ‘no presents after 10’ approach. But, I think you have to be smart and reasonable about these things. Every kid is different.
MAKE IT REASONABLE
I keep saying ‘no gifts’. Let me be more specific….no gifts from friends attending a birthday party. Mom, dad, grandma, close friends, aunts…..plenty of folks STILL give gifts to our kids on their special day. And, let’s not forget the broader context here: this whole birthday party thing can get a bit crazy. You can spend a ton of money, on the celebration and then on gifts. And, truthfully – most of our kids don’t need anything! Right?!?!? Tell me I’m not the only one who loves half the gifts, but then wonders what the heck we’ll do with the other half??? This is truly a #FirstWorldProblem. Why not turn it into an opportunity for something better? Especially, for my boys, who have fall birthdays, they indulge in two months of non-stop birthdays, holidays and gifts galore. Want to raise a child that doesn’t feel entitled? I do. And, I won’t know for sure till they’re grown, if I’ve succeeded. But, reorienting birthdays around relationships and shared experiences seemed like a good place to start.
CHARITIES THAT ROCK
So, there are tons of great charities. A few of them have gotten pretty savvy in this area of facilitating donations in lieu of gifts. Their websites are set-up so that you can make a donation in honor of someone, and then print a special card, to take to the party. Here are some of our favorites:
- Kids understand that water is essential to life.
- Water.org not only helps to provide clean water to those in need, but they have a ton of educational materials on their website, including videos that help explain the problem and the solutions. This really helps kids to understand the issues better.
- Link: https://my.charitywater.org/birthdays/
- My kids like this organization because you give an animal to someone for whom ducks or rabbits could be a life-giving and income-generating resource for their family. We have some interesting conversations, talking about life in other places or how you can build a family business around raising chickens or goats. At the same time, it is a perfect opportunity to teach them about poverty and hunger around the globe.
- Link: http://www.heifer.org/gift-catalog/occasion/birthday.html
- Most kids are shocked to learn that kids in their own communities are hungry. Second Harvest is an amazing organization that provides food to families in need.
- I have recently learned that Loaves and Fishes, who provides the meals we serve at the shelter in Palo Alto, gets roughly 80% of their ingredients from Second Harvest. So, not only is Second Harvest working direction with individuals, but they’re supplying shelters serving meals.
- Link: http://www.shfb.org/birthdays
MAKE IT PERSONAL
- A good friend of mine, Birgit, has been involved with Agros for years. She introduced me to this organization, which works to break the cycle of poverty in South America by helping restore hope and prosperity through agricultural villages. These villages incorporate everything from infrastructure to pathways to land-ownership and more.
- When picking a charity organization, it is MORE meaningful when you share a compelling story that’s linked to a person or family your kids know well. Kids naturally want to help their friend. So, when you say, ‘hey, we get to give to this organization Birgit works with to help people in Nicaragua!’ – it feels much more local, even as it teaches them to think more global.
- Link: https://www.agros.org/do/oneseed
My New Red Shoes
- Another one of my favorite people on the planet, Heather, founded an organization called, My New Red Shoes. They help kids in need, especially the homeless, to start off the school year with the basics – like a solid pair of shoes that fit. Since their founding, 10 years ago, they’ve helped roughly 45,000 kids.
- This is about as local as it gets. Not only do we know Heather and her team, but we know they are giving to children in need RIGHT HERE in the Bay Area area.
- When you’re talking to kids about giving or charity, sometimes you can point to a 3rd world country across the globe. But, it also helps to talk about the world they know, and to pull back the curtain on suffering and brokenness that is just down the street.
- MNRS makes gift giving easy. You can either donate on their website, or if your child likes the idea of actually picking out a pair of shoes, you can look them up on amazon. Just search for the My New Red Shoes wish list.
- Link: www.mynewredshoes.org.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU…….JOY FOR YOU
I am on this journey….not just for myself, but for the sake of my kids. It’s been proven time and time again, that kids learn best through experience. If we want them to truly understand joy and compassion…if I want them to practice love, mercy and justice, it makes sense to leverage life-milestones, like birthdays!
When we place that birthday cake in front of our kids, tradition mandates that we sing ‘happy birthday’. But, the song our lives should sing is one that is more about joy than happiness. Not trying to splice hairs here, but there is a distinction that matters. David Rast and Henri Nouwen explain the difference in their book on gratitude.
“Ordinary happiness depends on happenstance. Joy is that extraordinary happiness that is independent of what happens to us. Good luck can make us happy, but it cannot give us lasting joy. The root of joy is gratefulness. We tend to misunderstand the link between joy and gratefulness. We notice that joyful people are grateful and suppose that they are grateful for their joy. But the reverse is true: their joy springs from gratefulness. If one has all the good luck in the world, but takes it for granted, it will not give one joy. Yet even bad luck will give joy to those who manage to be grateful for it. We hold the key to lasting happiness in our own hands. For it is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”
As unnatural as Donald Trump sometimes seems, his tendency towards looking out for #1 is not that unusual. Young or old, the decision to look for joy outside of ourselves is not intuitive, even if morally right and psychologically true. But, I think we’d all agree that THIS particular national nightmare is not one we want to relive. I don’t presume to know yet the recipe for cultivating love, mercy and justice in my kids. But, I sure as hell am going to try. And, birthdays are a logical ingredient, with which to start. You gotta start somewhere! Why not here?