Written by Sian Reardon
When I turned five, I got a shiny, red bike as a birthday present. I was so deliriously happy that I took it out every day, come rain or shine, and we were firm friends until the frame rusted and the wheels fell off. At eighteen, I got flowers and champagne to celebrate the coming of age and my parents treated me to a medieval banquet in a fairytale castle. Being a “Princess” for the evening was pretty cool and I still have vivid memories about a huge log fire, amazing jugglers and a lively band of singing minstrels. At 21, wearing an elegant new watch and gold, sparkly earrings, I danced on a table in a nightclub and sipped cocktails until the early hours – just able to remember what a good time I’d had. Some birthdays you never forget!
However, as I grew older and had children of my own, the emphasis shifted away from “What am I getting?” to “How can I share my special day with the people around me?” – making them feel connected and trying to keep our little family close. With that in mind, I’ve decided on a “No-Spend” celebration this year, encouraging good old fashioned conversation and any creative efforts that family and friends might want to share on the day.
“What shall I do for your birthday mummy?”, asks my five year old son. Last year, he painted my portrait and “Mummy without a leg and a wonky mouth”, has graced the fridge for the last twelve months.
“Maybe you could do me a little job”, I tell him, explaining how important it is. “I need you to find something for me”.
“What is it?”he asks, reminding me how good he is at finding things.
“Well, it’s not very big. In fact, it’s quite small but it sparkles and dazzles and can light up a whole room. Just like a diamond”.
“’Have I got one in my toy box?” my son asks, looking puzzled. I shake my head and tell him he’ll have to look a bit further.
“But I can help you if you like”.
The offer is most welcome and over the next few days Daniel is keen to get his hands on my present. When we go to the beach, he digs in the damp sand and looks under rocks trying to find that “something special”. He splashes in the water with his wellies and runs off after throwing seaweed in my direction, picking up shells washed up on the shore. When we visit the forest, he explores every inch of the land, climbing trees and searching under plants and bushes with a stick that uncovers all sorts of natural wonders. We spot sheep, horses and cows out in the fields and follow long winding paths bathed in sunlight hoping to find something dropped in a puddle or left on a fence.
“Is this what you want mummy? “ he says picking up a shiny hook left from a hiker’s boot. He holds it up and it catches the light.
“That’s interesting, but I think we have to keep on looking” I tell him, as he skips away to take a closer look at a wild rabbit that has been brave enough to come out into the open.
We get dirty and hungry on our travels, but we’ve never had so much fun. We were pirates on the beach and superheroes in the forest. We ate sandy sandwiches (but we didn’t care!) and laughed together even when we got drenched in the rain.
When my birthday finally comes round, Daniel wakes me up early and holds out his hand.
“This is for you”, he says, opening his fingers to reveal a tiny ladybird.
“That’s a beautiful gift” I tell him, letting the insect walk slowly over my arm.
“I couldn’t find what you really wanted so I got you this”, he says, shrugging his shoulders as he plonks himself down on the bed.
He doesn’t know it, but he gave me exactly what I wanted. Spending time together and discovering new sights and sounds made him happy every day on our “Great Birthday Hunt” and a smile was all I needed to see. Thats the greatest present any mother could wish for.
“You just made me the happiest mummy ever!” I tell him and that magic smile is back again.
Later that day, my guests arrive for an afternoon of love, hugs and homemade carrot cake. My son helped decorate it with a T-rex which makes everyone laugh and my husband has hung up some heart-shaped ceiling decorations with kind words to describe his wife. Thank goodness, he’s left out “Terrible Cook”and “She Cheats at Boardgames!”. My teenage daughter has cleaned the house from top to bottom and when it gets a little bit dark, lavender candles fill the air with a calming sweet aroma. Some guests have made their own hats out of crêpe paper and coloured feathers and someone has made an elegant bow tie for my french bulldog which is a talking point for all. I’m delighted with my “No Spend” presents which range from a homemade scarf made from recycled wool, a free manicure, a pebble paperweight, breakfast in bed, No-walking- the- dog- for- a- week voucher and strangely, a piece of string.
“You said you were fed up with the tap. This is a quick fix until you get a plumber in”, says a male friend who advises my DIY challenged husband to tie it around the head of the faucet, let it hang down to a bowl, thus creating more ear friendly drips in the middle of the night. I’ve been complaining for a week now, so this is a very welcome gift. There follows a silly conversation about what else we can do with a piece of string. Some of the novel suggestions that make people smile include taking a tiger for a walk, making a macaroni necklace or towing your car when it breaks down.
When it comes to making my Birthday Speech, I thank everyone for their lovely efforts and hope that we can all do it again next year. It’s been a great success and it proves that we don’t have to run to the nearest shop in order to make someone happy. The drinks flowed, the snacks got devoured and my husband amused the kids with his crazy guitar playing – Baa Baa Black sheep “rocked up”, sounds pretty awesome for a bunch of five year olds! My livingroom was crowded, noisy and strewn with party poppers , but that day, we made a thousand good memories and a house that glowed with laughter and joy. Even the pets had a good time. The cat moved from lap to lap, content with tickles under the chin (until he fell asleep in somebody’s handbag) and the dog got a few sneaky treats under the table from a generous guest.
Sometimes, our loved ones get scattered like leaves on a windy day – they grow up, they move away and we don’t see them as much as we’d like to. But when my guests arrived and I helped them peel off their coats, hats and scarves at the front door, I felt like I was unwrapping the best gifts of all – Them!