"My pink birthday." "My purple birthday." Turning the big 3 has been the talk of the house for the last few weeks. OK, months.
Birthdays and Christmas has always conjured up images of piles of plastic packaging, wrapping paper, tissue, bows and about 4,000 wires to tie every possible moving component in place. As my baby becomes much less so, I fear that's a trend that just won't quit any time soon.
Take my friend's son's birthday last weekend, where no less than 15 neighbor children crowded the place with presents galore. (The interesting thing was he was far more interested in the interactive stuff or even a book on submarines than the action-hero equipment that would likely break within days.)
Our own gift-giving for our child has been obscenely practical - this week, she'll receive PJs and shirts from us, chapstick (a huge deal for preschoolers!) and ponytail holders from the baby, with the "big gift" being an apron and chef hat for my budding cook. It's been hard convincing others that my child doesn't know what she wants for gifts - she doesn't know she has that choice! - and that she isn't big on any cartoon or other marketing character. It's not like we visit the toy aisle at Target, or watch Saturday morning cartoons. Yes she knows Elmo, Dora and High School Musical (thanks, Aunt Stacy), but she doesn't have to have them in her eyes yet.
My sitter: What would she like for her birthday? Does she like Dora?
Me: Well, I guess she likes it, but she hasn't really asked for anything.
Sitter: (Confused expression.)
Me: Honestly, she likes my scrapbooking stuff to play art with. Or cooking.
Sitter: Oh, does she like toy dishes to pretend?
Me: No, she likes the real thing.
Me: She always likes to cook with me, and she also likes playing with her "baby 'matoes" in the garden too.
Sitter: (Pauses.) Well, maybe I'll get her some Crayola stuff.
Excellent!! In fact, nothing would please her more than things that tap into her creativity, particularly if it will divert her from trying to experiment with the ink-stamps-on-carpet look again.
My in-laws, however, were determined that she needed a little toy kitchen. Aside of the huge amount of space that one of those things take, I was a little concerned. After all, kids' interests change so quickly. Not to mention, where do little plastic toy kitchens go once they're outgrown? They have to go somewhere. As they sent us the money, we ended up going to a used kids' store, where we found the ultimate kitchen in her eyes. ("Mommy, let's take this home," she uttered breathlessly as we saw the kitchen from the store's doorway.) One kitchen saved from the landfill, and we had enough left over to buy some dishes - real ones and pretend - and she's been slaving away at such culinary creations as strawberry soup, salads and cupcakes all weekend since.
It's one little - or in this case - large thing I can do to foster my child's imagination and still make a small difference toward the massive amounts of junk we create each day. So maybe my daughter's "pink birthday" isn't the greenest in the sense we won't have spudware or recyclable plates. But by thinking creatively in our gift giving (and reusing those gift bags and tissue papers just one more time) we're taking one small step.