My older son turns 8 in a couple of weeks, and the child has more toys than FAO Schwarz. It’s like an “everything must go!” sale from Toys R Us exploded in our playroom and mated with “Grey Gardens“: old Ninja guys, random plastic wands, debris from old birthday party goodie bags, broken kazoos, deflated basketballs, soggy stuffed animal pelts, unopened puzzles, board games nobody can figure out, maimed plastic superheroes, stray Legos, Mad Libs booklets missing most of their pages…the list goes on. I venture into his playroom at least once a month, shoving stuff in trash bags and furtively sneaking them away, yet somehow this junk manages to reproduce and mutate out of our colorful storage trays and onto the floor. The child does not need more toys.
And yet: It’s his birthday! Every kid deserves toys on his or her birthday!
So I decided to implement a charitable lesson this year. He can receive and keep toys from his family, but any gifts he receives at his kids’ birthday party go to charity. He was on board with the idea, at least in theory. I think even he realizes that he has too much stuff. The hard part is deciding where to donate the toys and how to turn the plan into a meaningful lesson. I don’t want it to feel like a punishment, and I also want the charity in question to have some kind of personal connection for him.
Since he loves the Red Sox, I was hoping to donate gifts to The Jimmy Fund but couldn’t figure out a way for him to actually deliver toys in person. I could ask his pals to make a donation in his name, but I also wanted him to have the experience of personally delivering toys to kids who need them.
Then he attended a party where the family donated wrapped toys to Child Life Services at Boston Children’s Hospital. (Child Life Services basically humanizes the hospital experience for kids and families, providing opportunities for creativity, play and other “normal kid” activities in an otherwise very grown-up, scary setting.) My friend’s kids visited the hospital in person, which seems like the ideal option. I want Andy to actually absorb where his toys go and understand why other kids will be grateful for them.
At the same time, I don’t want to scare him or force-feed him a lesson in humanity. It’s a delicate balance. Right now, he understands that there are other kids who need toys more than he does. But he’s also not overly excited to load up a car full of presents and deposit them elsewhere, in an environment that might scare him. I don’t think he fully understands concepts like “cancer,” for instance, nor do I want him to spend his birthday contemplating life and death. It’s times like these that I wish our family had a more clear-cut spiritual framework for giving. I also want him to just relax and have fun and hit some baseballs.
So, I’m trying to puzzle out an organic way for him to willingly do a good deed, and I would love ideas. I have two weeks to go before we descend on the batting cages. Have any of you successfully combined a birthday party with a charitable mission? How did it go?