(A note before we begin: if you came across this article looking for toddlers who don’t cost money, need batteries, or take up space then I am afraid you have the wrong article. But if you find it, please let me know. Thanks!)
The other day I was changing my daughter’s diaper when my (almost) 3-year-old son came bursting into the room.
“Mama, Mama! I found my birthday present!” he exclaimed.
I turned around, considerably shocked. My surprise wasn’t that he had found his birthday present. It was because there wasn’t any birthday present to be found. Because we never bought him a birthday present.
You see, my husband and I aren’t big into getting gifts for our kids for a multitude of reasons, the main one being that we’re still in the “good years” here. The time when opening the gift is more fun than the actual gift. Also our children still have the memory and temperament of squirrels who can’t decide which side of the road they want to be on.
But now that my son has almost three years and a dozen birthday guest experiences under his belt, the meaning of what a “birthday” is has both some resonance and excitement to it.
And, so, when he eagerly led me to the closet where he found his “birthday present,” I played along.
“Look!” he shouted, proudly showing me my old lacrosse stick I totally forgot was in our office closet. “I found it!”“Oooh, you certainly did,” I said in mock disapproval. “But it’s not your birthday yet. Are you sure you want to play with it now?”
“Okay,” I said, crossing my arms. “But just remember: This is your birthday present.”
We both skipped giddily out of the room, relishing in our successes. My son was elated that he had found and then convinced me to let him play with his birthday present early. As for me, I patted myself on the back for unknowingly finding the perfect birthday present for my toddler 17 years ago. Well done, high school me. (Oh goodness, now I feel old.)
But then I wondered, what else could be lurking in those closets, underneath our beds, tucked into drawers? Where else might I find more perfect “birthday presents” for my children so I don’t have to buy any more stuff?
And this is what I got:
1. Your old sports equipment
So Jack has already found my lacrosse stick, but somewhere in there are golf clubs my husband has never used, an old football jersey (not sure whose this is), and my husband’s baseball equipment. Fourth, Fifth, Sixth birthdays? Check, check, and check.
2. Your old job stuff
3. Your wallet
Bonus! This has an additional symbolic element attached to it, as children basically take everything from you anyway. So why not make it a toy as well? If you don’t have a spare old wallet laying around, there are a thousand web tutorials on how to make a duct tape one…or you can just ask that neighbor kid down the street. Then fill it will stuff you might keep in your George Costanza sized wallet but don’t really need: pennies, receipts, punch cards for places you will never go back to, that gift card with .53 left on it, foreign currency, five appointment cards for doctor’s visits that occurred last year.
4. Your Dog’s Old Toys
Hey, a Frisbee is a Frisbee, right? Besides, at some point in its life, Fido probably chewed or destroyed something of yours, so this is totally fair. Don’t worry about the slobber. Pets are supposed to help build immunity. So that’s an extra gift right there.
5. Their Old Baby Toys
Remember that thing that your kid used to play with all the time but then he outgrew it so you put it away to cherish and remember? Go bring that sucker back out again because he sure as heck doesn’t remember. Make sure you wrap it up real well, too because chances are it will bring him 10 minutes max of playful joy before it’s chucked back into the toy bin…or on the floor. You want to make that gift experience last, so maybe use some of that duct tape as well.
6. A Library BookThis is like the “Stich Fix” of birthday presents. And, as long as you don’t destroy it or turn it back late, it’s free. Again, the wrapping part here is key because there’s a chance, depending on their mood or the book’s title, that they won’t be impressed. But that’s the beauty of this gift: free returns and exchanges!
7. A Household Item
In our house, it’s currently the step stool. My son stands on it and plays “marching band conductor.” He sits on it and plays “train passenger.” He puts it right next to the counter and plays “stealer of the piece of toast I just made for myself but okay fine you can have it, go sit at the table.” Last year, the broom was the must have item and next year it might be the vacuum cleaner. I can’t wait until my son is old enough to be able to play with the lawnmower because that year’s present is going to be called “You Get to Cut the Grass!”
If this is not your parental approach, I completely understand. If you are the type of parent who buys their children actual gifts like normal people and gets rid of odds and ends Marie Kondo style, these tips probably won’t be very useful to you. But if you are like me and don’t need to see another Hot Wheels car in your life and can’t stand the thought of paying for more plastic junk when there is plenty of plastic junk already hiding in your house, then I hope this might have helped…or at least have given you a good laugh.
And future Jack or Annie, if you are reading this, don’t come complaining to me. This was all done in love. Actually, if you are reading this, it means you are old enough to go play with the lawnmower. Happy Birthday! Go cut the grass! Love, Mom
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