I need some help from the moms of the world out there. I’d really love your feedback after you read the problem I’m thinking through…
We have too many toys in our house. Sound familiar? I fantasize about being that woman who either throws away or donates “stuff” that hasn’t been used in a while, or even a mom who cleans and organizes toys every night so pieces of plastic don’t get left across various rooms on multiple floors.
Sadly, I’m not.
My son’s 5th birthday is coming up in February. He’s a great kid. If ever there was a child worthy of receiving presents it’s this kind, happy little soul. However, we spend a lot of time talking about the world, looking at the globe, and imagining what life is like for other people, particularly in Third World countries.
This past summer, we had a really interesting experience where we shared a house with a girl who had basically never slept in her own bed before. Although she lived in the US, her family was quite poor and she’d always had to sleep on couches, cots, in sleeping bags, or in a “family bed”, snuggled with her parents and/or siblings.
Maybe Anthony was too young, but when he started crying because it was hot, I used it as an opportunity to teach him about “perspective” – real problems vs. problems that may feel important but in actuality are trivial.
As all kids do, he is counting down the days to his birthday. I’ve explained to him that instead of presents this year at his birthday party, we are going to collect money (anonymously) from friends instead of getting gifts from them. With this money, we are going to buy a goat for a family in Africa through Heifer International. According to their website, “A gift of an animal through Heifer International not only brings hope and change to families around the world, but also brings sustainable prosperity to entire communities. Help make a difference in the lives of those in need today!”
I’m not entirely sure if it will be a goat (it may be a cow) or if it will be in Africa (it could be another country such as India or Pakistan), but I didn’t want to be too abstract for him. He said he loved the idea! Then, a couple of days later he said, “Mom, it may be weird and dirty for us to keep a goat in the house.” Oops, I guess he didn’t totally get it…
So I tried again. “Take 2”: I explained again, right before Christmas. When someone presented him with a gift he broke into tears explaining to them that children in Africa had nothing, “sometimes not even parents,” so he shouldn’t have anything either. Oh shoot – was I robbing this poor kid of his childhood?
It’s now time for “Take 3.” Do I let this kid get mountains of unneeded presents from his friends? Is five too young to start raising his consciousness?
Like all moms, I just want the best for my kids. It seemed like such a great idea; no additional stuff cluttering up my house, a kid learning and giving back, a good lesson for his buddies and their parents, and best of all, a person or family who really needs it would have a goat or cow that could potentially change their lives.
But the reality of a “no gifts” party is setting in, and I’m worried Anthony will be very disappointed.
What do you think I should do?
[ Editor’s Update: Please see the follow-up story, Water Buffaloes and Bees and Goats, Oh My!, which posted on February 8, 2012. ]
Ellen Padnos lives in Manhattan Beach, CA with her husband, Ben, her children Anthony (4), and Annie (1), and her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Lola. You can also follow her on Twitter (@ellenpadnos).