Monday, January 30, 2012

Celebrating a birthday

At our house, we love birthdays. The birthday child picks whatever (!) he or she wants for dinner and we accommodate without question. She gets to watch a movie, gets to choose how we spend the afternoon, and is never responsible for doing school for the day (unless she wants to). He wears whatever he wants (not subject to mother approval no matter how weather-inappropriate) and generally gets the reign of the house (assuming all choices are safe!).

I think this is probably the norm for many families (can it be that we are actually doing something that other families do?! This seems strange...) but we also add our own twist. When it comes to giving a gift to our birthday child, we have chosen simply to spend little or no money. We make this choice for a variety of reasons I suppose (for a look at our debt-reduction plan click here), but mostly from a couple of beliefs that we hold as parents: 1) kids don't need a whole lot of Fisher-Price-type stuff to be happy; and 2) as their parents we have a responsibility to help them look beyond today and to prepare for tomorrow.

In that vein, our family works hard to allocate the resources we have in ways which benefit us later more than now, so we choose to invest that would-be toy purchase money on behalf of our children.

Our goal, when our first child was born, was to have $500 in his college savings account by his first birthday. This may seem modest to some, but it was quite a stretch for our budget in those early days of our young marriage. We were so pleased when we made it a reality! Grandparents chipped in for his birthday and at Christmas, and we invested money he received for baptism, our small tax refund for having a child... any extra cash we had we put right into that fund because we knew that it would be most valuable to him there. We were able to meet and exceed our goal that first year, and have continued to increase our contributions to each of our children's college funds each year using many of the same methods.

Our youngest child, Eleanor, will turn one tomorrow, and will have our goal amount (and then some!) in her college account for the occasion. The last bit was added today from her parents, in lieu of a purchased birthday present.

Despite our pleasure at being able to "give" her part of her college education on her first birthday, we also want to give her something to open on her big day.  Enter one hand-me-down doll cradle that I refinished, and that her grandmother made bedding for: the perfect place for her first baby dolls to sleep.  This modest gift will give her something (meaningful and full of love) to open, maintain our priorities as parents and family, and prepare her for her future.

So while our children's birthdays may not be lavish, I think they'll understand. Someday, when our little Eleanor is walking across a stage in a cape and gown, ready to go out into the world on her own, I think she'll forgive us the Barbie she never got, or the clown that didn't come to her party. Instead, I hope that she'll remember all the little things that we did while she was young to help build her dreams, even before we knew what they were.

Happy 1st birthday to Miss Eleanor!



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