Our adult daughter Nikki’s birthday was Saturday, Nov. 14.
God willing, by the time she reads this column, she will have experienced all of her birthday gifts. “Experience” is the key word. Like many of your families, as our children mature, they embrace the concept that experiences together are sometimes more important than presents given.
Presents are still important. But I believe not as important as presence. Here are a few examples of my children’s “presence” birthday experiences.
I do not know what year it started but on my daughter Brenna’s birthday, her and I would go to the movies. Just the two of us. For a while it seemed as though Jodie Foster, one of her favorite actors, came out with a new movie every year. From “Maverick,” “Nim’s Island,” “Silence of the Lambs” to “Flight Plan,” I know every Jodie Foster movie story line. The best way for me to describe this special daughter/father movie-date experience is to quote a line from Jodie Foster’s character in the move “Nell.” As Nell would explain, “Chika, chika, chickabee. T’ee an me an t’ee an me. Chika, chika, chikabee.” When you see the movie, you will understand.
Brenna may have thought it as her birthday treat but it was secretly always mine. Watching her relaxing, enjoying herself and sharing a bucket of extra butter popcorn with her dad was a special gift for me. Even though she is all grown up, we continue this tradition.
When younger, my twin sons Sean and Aaron received an annual Halloween birthday experience. Their birthday is Oct. 25, so it was a perfect reason to hold a family Halloween birthday party in their honor. This usually meant 60 to 100 children and adults gleefully swarming our home and trick or treating in the neighborhood. Ask Sean and Aaron what they received for their birthdays, and what they will remember most is their family being there. Presence. Not presents.
Since all their cousins and friends have outgrown the annual Sean and Aaron Halloween birthday parties, we surprised my sons this year with an “Appetizer potluck, bring your favorite drinks and lawn chair, COVID-19 friendly football watching birthday party.”
It was perfect weather for a Sunday barbecue and family. With secrecy from my daughter-in-law Yvonne and son-in-law Carlos, perfect planning by their sisters Nikki and Brenna and excellence in barbecuing from our designated family chef Dave Yubeta, it was a perfect day.
Yes, birthday gifts were given but as my sons each said, “Having family together is the most important gift.” Seeing my adult children relaxed and enjoying their family and friends was a special gift for me. On special days like this we do not forget their mom, Susie, who we lost to cancer several years ago. We are saddened beyond explanation that Susie isn’t with us, but we rejoice on these special days because of her.
Sean and Aaron’s birthday are just weeks before Nikki’s. Nikki spent any free time she had to prepare for her brother’s surprise birthday gathering. Any priorities I may have had during the planning of her brother’s birthday party were superseded by any help she may have needed.
How many times did Nikki and I go to Hobby Lobby? I don’t remember. To how many stores did we eventually go? I don’t remember. I do vaguely remember concluding one full day of shopping with a trip with her sister Brenna to the Tejon Outlets. My disguise as their shopping chauffer allowed me to embrace each minute with my daughters as I saw the love for their brothers on full display.
What about Nikki’s birthday? Be sure and ask her about a private Friday night VIP showing of “Love of Monsters” for her family at Maya Cinema. Then ask her about the party van, which unexpectedly greeted her early on the morning of her birthday and whisked her and family away for wine tasting. And ask her how her birthday ended with a family dinner at her favorite Wool Growers restaurant.
She may not remember all her presents, but like her sister and brother, they will remember the blessing of family and friends.
The best gifts aren’t always things.
Presence over presents.