The Old Paths: The thought that counts

By Leslie Bray Brewer - Special to The Stokes News
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Do you think in twenty years we’ll look back and sigh nostalgically about how much simpler life was back on the old paths in 2018? In other words, does life really get more complicated the more modernized we get? Or is it just human nature to think things were simpler in the past?

The hubster and I have been working our way through the five seasons of “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” and I have to chuckle when Rob and Laura moan about how busy their early 1960’s lives are compared to “the good ole days.” With no cell phones, social media, email, cable TV or computers, their lives seem relatively uncomplicated to me. Laura is there with a nice supper each night when Rob gets home from the office while little Richie is outside playing with Freddie until time for his bath and 8 p.m. bedtime.

These days, kids are just getting home from sports practices or dance/music lessons by 8 p.m. or even later.

On a recent episode, Richie’s birthday was approaching, and Laura was in a quandary. It seems that all the other kids were now being given elaborate birthday parties rather than the simple affairs which had long been the norm. Parents were feeling the pressure to invite dozens of kids then rent a pony or a clown or take the young’uns to the bowling alley or the movies. Peer pressure was negatively affecting the parents who didn’t want their kids to feel slighted.

I see that same circumstance even more today as parents plan increasingly elaborate birthday parties for their children year after year. It costs them AND their guests a lot of money.

When my five children were little, we didn’t have a lot of money. For a lot of years, we lived beneath the poverty level, although God always blessed us in ways that we didn’t appear to be what you would call “poor.” My friends who were living the “normal” middle-class life didn’t realize that five kids getting invitations to all of their friends’ annual birthday parties could send me into a panic of “How do I afford all these gifts?”.

At the same time, I appreciated my kids being included, and I wasn’t upset with my friends and their children who certainly deserved to be blessed.

But think about it: Even if my five kids each attended only five friends’ parties annually and gave a $20 gift, we would still need to budget an extra $500 a year. When we sometimes didn’t have that amount to fill up our oil tank for heat in the winter, you can see the dilemma.

May I just be transparent here? I love children and wanted to bless all of these birthday boys and girls, but it was very embarrassing to see the guest of honor open all of these expensive gifts of toys or money, followed by the much-cheaper gifts my family had scraped together from a lower-end department store. Call it pride or whatever, but I worried that my children would feel shame about not being able to give as extravagantly as others did.

I know, I know…..it’s supposed to be the thought that counts, and money isn’t everything. But when you see a kid’s face change after he opens an expensive video game then unwraps your kids’ walkie-talkie set from the dollar store, you can’t help but squirm. I don’t blame the sweet child; even you and I as adults might yell louder over a new car than we would a coffee mug, much as we try to be fair.

When I was a kid, we didn’t get elaborate birthday parties each year. For some reason, my Mama’s rule was that we could only have a big birthday party when we turned six and 16. All of the other years were just small celebrations with close family.

So imagine how my sister and I looked forward to those magical years of six and 16! I still vividly remember my six-year-old party with the neighborhood kids running through my yard while their moms sat in lawn chairs under our carport. What a thrill it was to open that “Hi Ho! Cherry-O” game I had so wanted!

Partially because I don’t believe in over-pampering kids and also because of our past financial struggles, I adopted my Mama’s six/16 birthday party rule for my own kids. They never complained and thoroughly enjoyed the big bashes we threw for those special years.

It was at one of those parties that I acquired a precious memory that is embedded into my heart. I learned a lesson about ditching the pride which had accompanied me to birthday parties for years. Lessons in humility don’t come cheap.

It happened when my older son Elijah was having his elaborate six-year-old party in our church’s fellowship hall. We went to a big church in Winston-Salem, so there must’ve been 30 or more kids at this event.

He opened the multitudes of presents, exclaiming joyfully over all of them since this was his first-ever real party. Then he got to the two gifts wrapped rather haphazardly by the single-income dad who was working heroically to raise his two young children on his own.

I’ll never forget that little boy and girl watching excitedly as my son opened the gifts from them. I found out that they didn’t have any money to buy Elijah a present, so their dad had asked each of them to choose their favorite stuffed animal to give to him. These darling children were willing to sacrifice their favorite comfort toy to bless my son.

Thankfully for me, my child exclaimed just as heartily over the secondhand stuffed animals as he did the expensive gifts, but I had to turn away to keep from crying at the poignancy of these children’s generosity. To me, those gently-used toys were more precious than the most costly technological gadgets he could’ve been given.

That was 16 years ago, but my children and I haven’t forgotten the sacrificial gesture of these kids who are now grown-ups somewhere out in this sometimes mercilessly-modern world. I hope they have retained those gracious spirits they had as children. And I hope to NEVER forget the lesson they taught me: that it really IS the thought that counts…..especially when that thought comes from a loving heart.

Leslie Bray Brewer can be emailed at theoldpathsatwalnutcove@yahoo.com. Her blog is at http://timesofrefreshingontheoldpaths.wordpress.com.

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By Leslie Bray Brewer

Special to The Stokes News