One of my sons is about to have another birthday. Recently, he and his brother carried on an interesting dialogue in the back seat of the car about the philosophy of gift-giving, following his brief conversation with me. Being the biggest present-buyer and surprise-engineer in our home, I found their perspectives concerning this expression of love sadly enlightening.

His conversation with me began like this:

“Mom, have you guys bought my birthday gift yet? It’s only 3 days away.”

“You’ll find out on your birthday.”

“Is is a good one? Did you get what I asked for?”

“Have I ever let you down before?”

“Well, it’s just that I asked for an ipod because I lost my old one, but I just found it yesterday. So if you got an ipod, you’ll have to exchange it for my second choice.”

I begin  to bristle slightly at this point. “You’re getting what you’re getting.”

“But now I don’t want an ipod anymore. I don’t need it.”

“You’ll get what you’re getting and be grateful for it. I’m not operating a business here.”

“But I’d rather have the new cleats now.”

My other son decides to insert his wisdom into the conversation. “They don’t always get us what we want.”

I keep quiet to see where this train of thought leads.

“They’re not going to get me something I didn’t ask for. It’s my birthday.”

“So? We get stuff for Christmas all the time that we don’t ask for.”

“But that’s when we ask for stuff they can’t afford.  We only get 1 thing for our birthdays. It’s gotta be what we ask for.”

Hmm. I feel a lecture about the children in Africa rising up in my throat, but I refrain myself. I look at my husband, who had orchestrated the ipod purchase (new, but a Craigslist find), but I don’t ask any questions. I already know what he’s thinking. The ipod is not going back. Someone’s learning a lesson on his birthday.

Should “It’s all about you” really be the philosophy behind gift-giving and birthdays? In our house, I’ve always made birthdays a big deal, serving the birthday boy’s favorite food at every meal, hanging streamers, throwing creative boy birthday parties (36 of them, to be exact), planning for weeks in advance.

Maybe–just maybe–the philosophy behind gift-giving should be the action of love rather than the object of love. Maybe when the focus moves from action to object, the gift can never be good enough.

Happy Birthday, Honey! You’ll be a better man for it.

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