66: Birthday Blast

66: Birthday Blast

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less

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Birthday Blast

Teaching kids to count is fine, but teaching them what counts is best.

~Bob Talber

“I want a superhero birthday party,” my nephew Eli announced one evening when I was at my sister’s house. We were all aware that his tenth birthday was approaching. He had been reminding us daily, and his parents planned to invite a few of his friends from school and serve pizza, with some cake and ice cream for dessert.

“Okay,” replied my sister. “What exactly is a superhero birthday party?”

“I want Batman to come to the party,” Eli explained enthusiastically. “And The Flash, Spiderman and Wolverine. I want all the kids from my class to come and I want chicken tenders with ranch dipping sauce to eat. Oh, and chocolate cake with chocolate marshmallow ice cream.”

“That seems like a lot,” my brother-in-law said.

Eli smiled. “C’mon, you guys, I want a good party like everybody else.” He carried his empty plate and cup to the sink and then headed to his bedroom to finish his homework.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked my sister, rolling her eyes. “Where did these extravagant ideas come from?”

“Unfortunately, he gets those ideas from his friends,” I said. My sister and brother-in-law both worked weekends, so I was the one who took Eli to his friends’ birthday parties.

One boy had a party with three of those giant inflatable bouncy houses and a magician that walked around on stilts.

Another boy had a drone party for his birthday. His parents hired guys to come and help the kids fly actual drones around the backyard obstacle course. Even I thought it was cool.

A girl in Eli’s class had a princess party. Her parents put up a huge tent behind the house, decorated it with balloons and twinkle lights and had teenage girls dressed in gowns and tiaras, carrying scepters, who introduced themselves as Princess Anna and Princess Elsa.

“Wow,” replied my brother-in-law, as he got up to pour himself another mug of decaf. “When I was a kid, one of my friends from school had a piñata at his party and we talked about it for months afterward.”

“I remember my favorite birthday party,” said my sister. “It was when my cousins came over for pizza and we had a sleepover.”

“My best birthday was when my dad took me camping for a weekend,” I said.

“Birthdays are supposed to be fun,” complained my sister. “It seems like these social extravaganzas are turning into competitions.”

Then I had an idea.

I shared it with my sister and brother-in-law; they agreed wholeheartedly. Then I told my nephew.

“Going camping for my birthday?” A horrified look came over Eli’s face. “That doesn’t sound like any birthday party I’ve ever been to.”

“That’s the idea,” I told him.

Three weeks later, on the evening of his tenth birthday, Eli and I were sitting on the shore of Hidden Lake. The setting sun was turning the sky over the surrounding forest pinkish-orange. The breeze was lightly rippling the water.

I had taken a few days off from work and, though Eli complained the whole time that this wasn’t the birthday party he wanted, I had enthusiastically insisted we pack the car and head out on a camping trip. This was going to be fun! Eli did not share my enthusiasm.

However, his mood improved after we started hiking and we found the trail to the lake blocked by a fallen tree. We had to climb over it; Eli commented it was just like the cyborg army guys in his video game.

We came to a wide, shallow stream that intersected the trail and, not wanting to get our shoes wet, we decided to attempt to cross it by using the steppingstones. Unfortunately, the mossy stones were slicker than I expected; I slipped, fell to my knees in the water and soaked my pants. For the first time since the trip began Eli and I shared a laugh.

When we reached Hidden Lake the afternoon sun was high in the clear blue sky, so we pitched our tent in a shady clearing in the pine trees, I changed into dry pants, and we spent the rest of the afternoon fishing.

Now, surrounded by the stillness of approaching twilight, Eli was anticipating starting his first campfire to cook our dinner. We hadn’t actually caught any fish, just lots of snags, but luckily my practical-thinking sister had packed some hot dogs in a small cooler we had brought along.

“Look.” Eli pointed. “Those ducks are all in a line.”

A procession of mallard ducks, a mother and six ducklings, paddled in the water in front of us; their wake split the calm surface into an ever-widening V-shape.

“Yeah,” I replied. “They’re having a parade for your birthday.”

Eli laughed and waved at the passing ducks.

We were quiet for a while more; then Eli said, “This is an awesome birthday, Uncle David.”

“There’s no inflatable bouncy house,” I said. “There are no drones. There are no superheroes. We don’t even have any chocolate marshmallow ice cream. Are you really sure it’s awesome?”

“Yep, I’m sure.” He nodded.

A slight melancholy tugged at me. I knew that in a few years my nephew would be grown and celebrating his birthdays in his own way; I might not even be involved in the festivities, other than to send a card or call him on the phone. I felt satisfied that at least for this one birthday, I was able to make it something meaningful for him.

I guess what my father had taught me many years ago was still true — you don’t need entertainment, a fancy cake or even a piñata to make a birthday memorable. You just need to share it with someone special.

~David Hull

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