#975: Sharing the experience

Probably the only negative aspect of any birthday party for a child is gift-opening time. Especially when young children are involved, you can see some of the faces of the little guests become sad or disappointed as they watch the birthday boy or girl open present after present, and they think (sometimes out loud), “What’s for me?” No doubt most parents have witnessed a moment at a party when a child reaches into the stack of presents, and had to be restrained with a, “No, no, that’s not for you. It’s for the birthday boy/girl.” To the under-five set, this statement is most of the time met with tears.

This is just a minor reason why we’ve always (with the exception of one year) implemented a strict no-gifts policy in our home. Our children have known since a young age that coming into any “traditional” gift-giving occasion, they should not be expecting or asking for gifts. This means birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s, and “back-to-school”. Of course, the one exception is parents and grandparents, because we do still want the kids to have some things to mark the occasion.

When the Boy was younger, he too, fit into the category of saddened non-gift-receiving child described above. Although he never tried to grab his sister’s presents and open them, you could see his face noticeably change into a mixture of disappointment and slight envy upon the emergence of the brightly-wrapped packages. Even at Christmas time, when he had his own gifts to unwrap, if he had finished his task before his sister, he would cast his eyes upon hers longingly.

But last year, something changed. At her birthday, the Girl must have been conscious of this, because without prompting from any of us, she asked her brother if he would like to help unwrap a present with her, or if he would like to be the first with her to see her card. We have photos that change from one year where he is looking rather forlornly over her shoulder, to the next year, where he is sitting beside her, about to undo the present’s wrapping paper.

It’s a wonderful thing, to see a child instinctively understand another person’s sadness, and want to share her own wealth and joyful experience.