Celebrations mark the important days in our lives.
No matter if it’s an all-singing and dancing carnival or a cupcake and a balloon in the park, birthdays, weddings and festivals are special days.
There are lots of special days in the lives of children. Being invited to parties, deciding who to invite and who to exclude, creates special relationships and defines who matters to us and who we are important to.
My daughter’s year one class recently did an exercise where they drew concentric circles and were asked to place in the centre circle their closest friends and in the next circle friends they plays with sometimes and the outer circle people they’d like to know better.
Frankly, it was an outrageous and unsettling popularity contest, and I never got to the bottom of what it was supposed to teach them, but it made me consider our special people.
As lives get busier with school and work, it may seem special occasions become the only times you see some people who are important to you. We all want to be the special people who are invited to birthday parties, to have our status reinforced and to not miss out on significant events, but it’s intimacy that builds relationships, not special events.
As adults if we only ever see children on special occasions the children don’t really see us. At birthday parties children have so much to see and do and think about, they are distracted by presents and people and lollies. We watch them having a wonderful time, or being overwhelmed by it all, but it’s not an authentic way of knowing a child.
We all have them, those uncles and aunties from years gone by whose names we know and who brought us presents but who we never had a meaningful conversation with. In the end we are no better than the zoo; memorable for the tourists but nobody makes a meaningful connection with the monkeys.
How do we build authentic, meaningful connections?
Through mundane everyday interactions, and by being there when children have time to talk and listen and focus on being in that moment with us. My Aunt Alma never came to one of my birthdays and we didn’t spend Christmas with her, but I really knew her. I knew her through baking bread with her and listening to her stories and exploring the woods with her and spending the weekend at her house. Not exciting weekends where anything ever happened but quiet summer weekends of dog walking and berry picking and tea and scones.
So what I’m saying here is that from now on I’m not arranging my trips to distant friends to coincide with special events. And I don’t care if you turn up to birthday parties or not. I want to play board games in the winter with you, and take walks in the Spring. We will make food together in our homes and really know one another.
I want you to read stories to my children and not just buy them a present that you had to ask me for a suggestion for because you don’t know what they’d like. You might think you know my children because you watch videos of them on Facebook, but they don’t know you and I so want them to know you, because you are special.