Thursday, April 10, 2008

The hidden joy of giving

Well, it is that time of year again as parental birthdays roll around. It used to be that coming up with a birthday present for one's spouse was a stressful but ultimately useful exercise in the demonstration of true love. It is something I have handled with distinction, if I do say so myself.

But nowadays, it is all complicated by the necessity for the children to give their parents a present. And it should be clear, the purpose of that exercise is for the children to show just how much they love the said parent concerned. Last year, my son's choice of birthday present for me at least was dubious.

It falls on the other parent to ensure that the children understand the point of the exercise. However, what one quickly finds is that, if the point is to demonstrate their love, the role of the other parent quickly becomes one of hiding the truth of the matter. Suffice it to say, you don't want to find out how little your children love you; especially on your birthday.

Now the whole exercise takes some doing. For instance, in conversation with my 7 year old son, the concept of 'effort' was lost:
"Why don't we just order something over the Internet?"

"Well, you need to think about what would be appropriate. It is the thought that really counts."

"OK, I THINK we should order something over the Internet."

"That really isn't much thought. You need to think more."

"How long do I have to think for?" (As if he is being forced to play outside or something)

"As long as it takes to come up with something that your mother will really want."

(5 minutes later)

"OK, I have thought about it. I REALLY think Mummy would want something bought on the Internet."
And so on.

Taking the opportunity this week when their mother was out of town (recall that last year when she left, hilarity ensued) we embarked on various 'effort' related tasks to show love. You would think that absence makes this more convenient. Sadly not, it becomes another stressful activity in an already stressful week.

Trying to be efficient, I wondered if the kids could put together a video. My eldest daughter seized on this as it was clear it involved (a) not much additional thought and (b) no parting with precious pocket money. Sadly, her brother and sister didn't see it that way and were not willing to put in the minimum effort to at least pretend that the video was more than them jumping around to music.

Following on from that we went on to arts and crafts. This involved dismissing a suggestion by my son that he play with Lego and see what comes of it. Instead, we needed 'real' and 'planned' art projects. Those are both time consuming and messy. They also require a ton of thought; especially on my part.

This pretty much exhausted me. But by the end of the week, I had cajoled the children into demonstrating the requisite amount of love. Sadly, I was all tapped out on the thought front and had no birthday present of my own. I felt like the Seinfeld gang coming to the dinner party and just dropping off the wine and cinnamon bubka except that this time it is the kids walking in with their little love demonstrations and me coming empty handed. I can feel this is not going to end well. I should have let them crash and burn. Sigh.