Read an Excerpt
The Birthday BookCreative Ways to Celebrate Your Child's Special Day
By Shelly Radic
ZondervanCopyright © 2002 Zondervan All right reserved. ISBN: 0-310-24704-7
Chapter OneWhy Celebrate?
Parties are fun.
Cake is great.
But YOU are why we celebrate!
Her big brown eyes twinkled with joy as she filled her cheeks so full of air they looked like pink birthday balloons. Her ears drank in the sweet sound of those who loved her best of all singing the familiar words, "Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you." Wishing for a hundred more wishes, she blew the three candles out with a mighty puff of air to the delight and applause of her adoring audience. "Happy birthday, dear Janie, happy birthday to you!"
One of my favorite things about being a mother is celebrating my children's birthdays. Each birthday is an opportunity to reflect on what a unique, special creation each child is. As I look back over the previous year, I can see how God has been working in their young lives, bringing growth and maturity while he patiently molds them into his own image. My children's birthdays have provided a day for me to say "I love you" in some special way. A day to say, "You are special to me." Birthdays seem to naturally provide opportunities for us to have fun together.
What makes a birthday a special day? Is it a cake with some candles? A pile of gifts wrapped in brightly colored paper? Ahouseful of guests singing the birthday song? While cake, gifts, and special guests can make the day special, they are not what a birthday is all about. What makes a birthday special is the child himself. Birthdays are about focusing our attention on that special little person God has blessed us with, to zoom in for one day each year on that child's growth, interests, and accomplishments. To let that child know, without a doubt, that he or she is a unique creation, truly special and dearly loved.
I entered motherhood in the mid-1980s, a decade of excess everything! My daughter attended her first birthday party when she was nine months old, and was it ever something. Two dozen kids, even more adults, loads of decorations and food, a pile of gifts, and lots of fun stuff to do. Mothering magazines in the 1980s emphasized the importance of building self-esteem in your child. I love a great party, and took great pride in the special first birthday I planned for my little girl. Being the overzealous first time mother I was, I thought giving my child a blowout birthday party was an ideal way to build her self-esteem.
Forty birthdays later (it really adds up fast when you have four children!) I've come to some different conclusions about celebrating children's birthdays. Excess and success are not synonymous, and while blowout birthday parties can be an incredible gift for a child, they are not the only way to celebrate a birthday. It took me awhile, but I finally figured out that the most important birthday gift a mother can give her child is not self-esteem, or a blowout party, but an appreciation for the unique and special person God created him to be. Now my goal for each birthday is to celebrate the unique life God has created in my child, to give her a glimpse of who God is shaping her to be, to let her know I am thankful for the special gift God entrusted me with, and to have fun celebrating her special day.
Why celebrate birthdays? Celebrating birthdays provides an opportunity to meet the needs of our child in some unique, memorable ways. In their book What Every Child Needs, Elisa Morgan and Carol Kuykendall share with us the nine basic needs of our children: security, affirmation, belonging, discipline, guidance, respect, play, independence, and hope. Celebrating a child's birthday gives us an opportunity to meet many of these needs in memorable ways.
Your child's need for security can be met when on his special day, you give him just a little bit more of yourself-a little more time, a few more hugs. While a one-year-old will not remember anything about his first birthday, the sound of his mother's voice singing the birthday song and whispering a prayer of thanksgiving for her little child will be etched forever in his brain. As a child grows older and watches his mother consistently plan and carry out special birthday celebrations, he will be reminded of her continuous love and care. Celebrating birthdays is an opportunity to hold your child close in the security of your love.
Cello virtuoso and conductor Pablo Casals asks a thought-provoking question of parents when he writes, "When will we also teach them [our children] what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, and the way you move." Children learn who they are by watching how those around them react to them, and by listening to the things we say about them. In the hustle and bustle of daily life, moms sometimes forget how important it is to affirm their child as a unique, God-created human being. View your child's birthday as a chance to tell her what you really like about her. Show her how she is uniquely and wonderfully made. Whether it's learning to walk, sort socks, or write her name, praise your child for the accomplishments she's achieved in the past year. On your child's birthday, join her in activities she is interested in, or use her unique interest as the theme for her birthday party. Celebrate the birthday of your child by finding ways to affirm her. Fran Scott, dean of the Erickson Institute for Advanced Study in Child Development says, "Children need more than food, shelter, and clothing. The bottom line is: Every child needs at least one person who's crazy about him."
Cheers, a popular television series in the 1990s, was a big hit because it gave us a glimpse of a place where "Everybody knows your name!" It was about a place people liked to go because they felt a sense of belonging. You can build your child's sense of belonging in your family when you celebrate his birthday. Often birthdays are a time to talk about when your child entered the family-a day worthy of celebration! Extended family members, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins often send a birthday greeting letting the child know how thankful they are the birthday child is a part of the family. Special family birthday traditions (we'll talk more about these in the next chapter) help your child know he is an important part of your family unit. Your child has a place where he belongs!
Birthday celebrations offer an opportunity to meet your child's needs for discipline. Other than their first birthdays, each of my children had the opportunity to practice delayed gratification during their birthdays. Gifts and cards came in the mail, but were not opened until the special day. Special treats prepared in the morning for a birthday party could not be eaten until the appropriate time. Sometimes a special privilege such as playing in the front yard without mom would be granted on a milestone birthday. There is a sense of excitement that builds with this type of waiting. Birthdays give the opportunity to teach a child limits in social settings as well. Taking turns, serving your guest before you serve yourself, and treating others with respect all build good manners, an important component in the life of a well-disciplined child.
The way you handle celebrating your child's birthday offers an opportunity for you to meet your child's need for guidance in some unique ways. As your child sees you valuing her life, she learns her life has value. As she sees you thoughtfully preparing a special cake, she observes the value of doing kind things for others. As she listens to you share about the importance of saying thank-you for a gift, she learns to be grateful. As she helps you prepare for any special guests, she develops the art of hospitality. As your child plays games, hears stories, or listens to special music, she discovers the joy of having fun with someone she loves. Celebrating a birthday can provide many unique teachable moments for guiding your child.
In Eight Traits of a Healthy Family, Bill Hybels writes, "One day your children should be able to look back and say, 'My family was the one place where I felt I could be myself-and be loved for it.'" A child's birthday is a perfect opportunity to take a close look at your child and let him know you like what you see. Celebrating a birthday by doing some of your child's favorite activities, welcoming his specially chosen friends, or decorating your house with dinosaurs (or whatever your child's current passion is) sends a message of respect for your child. In a sense you are saying, "The things you do are so fun, I want to do them too. The friends you chose are such great people, I want to get to know them better. The stuff you are enthusiastic about is so interesting, I want to discover more about it!" Valerie Bell writes about "loyal delight." She says, "A parent's job is to celebrate the child, as he or she is."
Possibly the easiest need to meet on your child's birthday is the need for play. Children whine when they're hungry, yawn when they're sleepy, and cry when they're hurt. Sometimes I think we moms need a flashing light on our child's face that says, "I need to play!" It's so easy to forget about this important need in the midst of meeting all the others, and yet meeting this need is often the most fun for both mom and child. When I meet my child's need to have fun, I find myself meeting so many of his other needs as well. Birthdays are often a time when a child receives a few gifts. Take the time to choose at least one gift that will encourage play between you and your child. No need to spend a fortune-beach balls, Play-Doh, bubble wands, and refrigerator boxes can provide hours of playtime for under five dollars. Choosing to engage in a few of your child's favorite activities, whether it be blowing bubbles or climbing a jungle gym, will not only meet your child's need to play, but will be fun for you as well.
Every birthday is a milestone towards your child's independence. While moms don't always want to admit it, our children do have a need for independence. As your children get older, they can be progressively more responsible for the planning of their birthday celebration. When my children were toddlers, they loved to "help" me bake their birthday cake. By age four they were capable of doing many of the baking tasks on their own. At age seven, they begged to be allowed to decorate the cake themselves. By allowing them to take charge of this task, I helped their stretch towards independence. Moms, each birthday should be a reminder to us our child is growing up and needs us to leave more of life's daily tasks and decisions in his increasingly capable hands.
Finally, celebrating your child's birthday offers an opportunity to give hope. A birthday is a day of looking forward, a chance to ask your child what she thinks it will be like to be three or five or eighteen, to imagine with her the exciting new adventures awaiting her as she grows up. It is a chance to look back as well, to remind your child of the wonderful things God has blessed her with during the past year. It is a chance to tell your child again that God loves her and has a unique plan for her life. It is a chance to offer a prayer of thanksgiving for God's continued guidance, love, and protection. Birthdays offer an opportunity to slip your child's name into Jeremiah 29:11-12 and offer a prayer such as this: "Dear God, thank you for the special plans you have made for my sweet [Natalie]. Help her to always understand your plans are for her well-being, designed to keep her from harm. Your plans offer [Natalie] a hope and a future. Thank you, Lord, because [Natalie] can always call upon you at any time in her life, and you will listen to her and answer her prayers."
Learn to view your children's birthdays as an opportunity to meet their basic needs in creative, memorable ways. Celebrate by saying, "I love you, you are special to me," in several different ways. At the close of his or her special day, every child should know without a doubt that he or she is a unique creation, truly special, and dearly loved.
Chapter TwoWays to Celebrate
I'm glad there are
So many ways
To celebrate your special day.
As he awakened, the first thought flitting through his brain was, I'm five today! A whole handful! He bounced up in bed, eyes wide open, looking for the brightly decorated gift bag he knew would be at the foot of his bed. Grabbing the bag, he raced into his mommy's room and tugged at her pillow. With an excited whisper he asked, "Are you awake? Can I open it now?" His mommy was expecting him. With a smile she said, "Happy birthday, buddy. Go ahead, open your gift." Throwing the sparkly tissue aside, he pulled out a pair of khaki pants with huge cargo pockets and zippers that transformed the pants into shorts. His arms wrapped around his mommy's neck as he whispered into her ear, "Thank you, Mommy, I really wanted pants like these!" Delighted to feel his little face so close to her own, his mommy whispered, "I know."
Leaving a gift bag with new clothes on the birthday person's bed is a favorite tradition at my house. It is one of the ways I say, "I'm happy it's your birthday," to my children. I try to pick something extra special, something they've really wanted that I might not normally buy, to welcome in their special day. My children eagerly anticipate their new clothes, knowing I have put special thought into our early morning birthday ritual. During the weeks preceding their birthdays, I enjoy turning into a fashion sleuth as I solve the mystery of what they would like to wear most of all. I have to confess I've often uncovered evidence that my child is growing up during my sleuthing. No longer does my little boy want a shirt with a fire engine or a big yellow bird. Now he wants pants like the cool big guys wear! My little lady is no longer interested in a dress with lace. She now prefers jeans with frayed edges and patches! As my girls hit the preteen years, I began letting them accompany me on my fashion mission. They now value our shopping time as well as their early morning "surprise."
As I mentioned in the previous chapter, when I was a new mom I thought a child needed to have a big party to feel truly special on his birthday. Over the years, I've learned there are many ways to say, "I'm glad that it's your special day. You are God's special gift to me."
Excerpted from The Birthday Book by Shelly Radic
Copyright © 2002 by Zondervan
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.