My kid’s birthday is probably on the top of my list of things I look forward to, especially as he gets more and more excited to celebrate. Parties are awesome now that he has his little group of preschool and neighborhood friends, and the little ones talk to each other for months before the festivities about their favorite details regarding themes and locations.
Buuuuuut… since my son’s very first birthday my own sense of excitement was always tinged with a dash of dread and a sprinkle of guilt thinking about about all of the gifts he would be receiving. My eco-focused mindset, budding minimalist efforts, and our small living space drove my desire to keep gifts simple, small, and something he would really use or play with. Mostly my attempts at requesting no/small/less gifts fell on the deaf ears of our good-intentioned friends and family, excited to shower the special guy, on his special day, with his heart’s desires. Every once in a while I’d be able to make a back-alley pact with a mom-friend if she would skip the gift, I would return the favor – super secret and under the radar, I mean what mom doesn’t want gifts for her kid!?!
Absolutely grateful for the gifts (and especially the experience of receiving them), we would rotate some of the larger items in and out of the play environment and keep a cabinet of surprises that would last for months – on any ol’ typical day we could pop out a new item, talk about who gifted it, appreciate them for it, and add some special birthday excitement that day. It worked for us just fine, though we were still swimming in toys and each birthday yielded a new need for more creative storage solutions.
Of course I love to see my child receive gifts and understand gift giving is an important part of our culture – I LOVE to give and receive gifts too – not at all looking to eliminate gift giving, just looking for a balance that works for our family. It wasn’t until this year that we found our game-changing birthday gift solution, which ultimately evolved from my son’s sweet nature, worry for the well-being of the animals around him, and my desire to give him tools to turn anxiety into action.
I knew there were agencies with wish lists out there to help all sorts of people and animals in need and I wondered how my son would react if I asked him if he would like to “share” his birthday; I thought turning 4 years old was the perfect time to give him this opportunity. Months before the celebration I asked him “Would you like to share your birthday with people or animals that need some help?” His answer and the conversation that followed warmed my heart – yes he did want to “share it”, he actually LIKED the idea of a smaller gift for him and one for them, and he wanted to (his words) “Help the animals. Give dogs and cats some toys. And food; do they need food, Mama?” Yes my love, they do.
So I began the process of sharing his desire with our friends and family who would be celebrating with us this year. Asking for gifts in general is hard; it seems like you’re supposed to know you’re going to receive gifts but not actually acknowledged the process until after it happens… I took the straightforward approach, hoping other’s appreciated the chance to get someone something they really wanted/needed as much as I did. Below I share with you the steps I took in helping my son express his desire to “share his birthday with the animals”, if it works for you feel free to copy any of the steps if you feel like your child is also ready to “share” their birthday!
I looked up our local animal shelter’s wish list from their website.
I created a couple of on-line wish lists with ideas of simple & smaller gifts that would spark joy for the birthday boy
Along with those links, I attached a pdf of the shelter’s wish list to the e-mail, then uploaded a picture of the list to the Facebook event page. Here is an excerpt from the e-mail I sent out:
As far as gifts go, he would like to share his birthday and (as he says) “help the animals”. He would love it if you kept his gift small and included a gift for him to take to the Mission Viejo Animal shelter.
I have included links to gift lists with ideas of smaller items that he would like – an action figure, game, book, or dvd are all really popular choices with him right now! I have also attached the shelter’s wish list in PDF format – He is particularly concerned that the animals have enough food (when we talk about bringing them toys he always says “… and food!”), but any items are welcome!
Sutton is sweet and caring and very aware of the needs of those around him, especially for an almost-4-year-old. Thank you in advance for your gifts and for supporting him in beginning an early lifestyle of giving and caring for those in need.
And here is a peek of what I posted on Facebook:
The requests were received wonderfully and I got a lot of messages back that people were so excited to donate to the shelter and on-board with choosing an item from the wish lists or something along those lines!
We designated a large basket in the garage for donations as they came in
As the basket filled up we had family conversations about how much the animals needed or would enjoy the items. We took pictures and updated family and friends on the progress.
The basket overflowed after the party, and we all had a good laugh at the silliness of bringing bags of dog and cat food to our local awesome-kids-party-place. That evening a parent from another party asked if he was getting a puppy for his birthday after watching our party table fill with animal related items and one of our guest proudly explained our efforts to use the occasion help shelter animals.
We brought our donations to our local animal shelter
I called first to make sure we could just drop by with a large amount of donations and we loaded up our truck and headed as a family to make our delivery.
We visited the animals at the shelter
My son was particularly relieved to see the animals in such good care and we talked about how we knew he was worried about the animals (and I mean ALL animals – this kid had made more than one request to rescue birds from a tree and help solo rollie-pollies find their families) and specifically how if he feels worried about something there are usually opportunities to do something to help.
Curious about our particular load, one of the staff at the shelter asked about the details of our donations. A few weeks later my son received this awesome note in the mail.
As the last step I sent out thank you messages in e-mails & on Facebook with pictures highlighting the process
In the end, my son absolutely LOVED “sharing his birthday with the animals”. This year the gift giving and receiving process was that much sweeter, and there was no need to reorganized our home storage due to volume! We started what I believe will be a lasting tradition in our own family and possibly inspired others to do something similar. Friends and family joyfully participated and as you can see from the pictures we were able to bring in a large haul of toys and food to the animals in our local shelter. In addition to the messages already sent, this post is dedicated to the friends and family who helped to empower this caring and sweet young boy with tools he needed to realize that he can turn his anxiety into action and his worry into results. Thank YOU!