Media disclosure, first. For his 8th birthday, he wanted Chima Legos: little monkey warriors he knows about because he subscribes to the Lego (marketing) Club magazine - which he did completely on his own. He has some Chimas, from extended family and purchased from money that he saved up. We once unsubscribed to the Lego magazines, and put them all away in the garage. The boys took it upon themselves the re-subscribe, so now that's where it's been for two years. As he's learning to read, the fact that I'm not going to read them to him has become a motivating factor and he's pretty much on his way.
Having grown up in comics myself (my parents were artists and comics art brokers), I'm very aware of how awesome they are for reading. As a peace and environmental activist, I really can't stand that Lego storylines are pretty much war + competition, out of context, set in every fantastical era, molded in plastic. (And don't get me started about heads coming off.) But he comes from warriors, many generations of martial artists down, so I not only get the appeal, I also see fit to honor it some. When he first picked up a bamboo stake, at three, he went into a full-on complex Filipino stick-fighting form. It was beautiful. Ancestral. Psycho-genetic. Bigger than me, for sure. So when he goes out of his way to seek out such things, he gets to keep a few.
Unless he gets over-competitive, aggressive, or acts it out. Then they all get put away again, to honor the household peace. Same is true for his brothers.
He also wanted golf balls and pins. He has a set of clubs, and I very much wanted to oblige him, but was reminded of the broken windows factor. And of our friend John, who has three scars on his face from playing golf with his brothers. David asked me if I was actually planning on golfing with him, with a new baby strapped on. Nope.
Secondly, a bad parenting choice: We have a set of clear glass plates for parties that our boys love. One of them is a deep, cobalt blue. At some point, maybe five years ago, I began saying, "And the winner... of the blue plate... iiiiiisssss...." while setting the table. It was a funny, silly thing, that turned into a competitive, sibling-rivalry thing, three times a day. If "bad parenting choice," means creating situations that make parenting harder, then this is an example of that. While David grew up in competition, I am fundamentally non-competitive. Sibling rivalry is a hard one for me.
And it's hard on our sanguine-phlegmatic boy. He just wants to play, climb things, sing, cook and eat. He wants to use his body, to explore the world physically and to move slowly when he's found something interesting. Our happiest moments are when he's working with the animals, playing full-on outside with his dad and brothers, or prepping some kind of exciting food moment.
So...celebrating his life, his passion, gesture, grown-upness and brotherhood...we picked him a setting of hand-thrown blue pottery. A plate, a bowl, and large mug. Two sets of small, but nice silverware. Eight tiny glasses that each held a single dollar, in the tradition of his great-grandmother, who always sent a check in the amount of our age. Three cloth napkins. And a selection of tiny condiment trays.
His brothers wrapped it all in newsprint (we get ours at the local paper, at $7 for a huge roll of recycled, unused newspaper ends) + wool snippets. He was eager, he loved it, and he especially loved watching his brothers set his place like five-star waiters. All three napkins were used as placement, napkin and mug decor. The condiment trays were filled with olives, capers, parmesan and sea salt. He never missed the toys, or the golf balls. And we have a new tradition on our hands.
I figure by the time they run off to seek their fortunes (a la' the three little pigs), they'll each have a full set of eclectic, mismatched plates that speak to who they were each year.
In the classroom, they enjoyed a similar simplicity. A candle, a verse, a beautiful watercolored card with words from each child. They enjoyed tea while we passed pictures and told a couple of stories. The children were invited to share stories about him, and we were struck with how extremely young and sweet eight is. They aren't restricted by doing it right, "looking good" or even making sense. Their stories were like haikus, or poetry of moments. Observations they had made from a place of very little separation. Their teacher, who's strong and wise and lovely, asked each family to forego treats so no child is left out, and to forego small gifts for the classmates, because "we're focusing on spiritual gifts this year."
I'm hoping we can just focus on that every year.
If I go by the reaction from the kids, it fits.
Celebrating my active boy, who loves condiments, belonging, family + his wee sacred community. And the gifts of resonance.