Below is a story I turned in to a writing contest last year. The challenge was to write based on the following topic: Mommy I Don’t Like This. I never answer my phone or check my voice mails so if I won (which I probably didn’t), I wouldn’t know.
“Mommy, I don’t like this” were the five words I prayed would never be uttered as my son opened gifts in front of everyone at any of his birthdays. P was turning four, in preschool and somehow added words like pumpernickel and actually to his precocious vocabulary every day. I still don’t know where his intelligence comes from as I usually have to learn his math lessons before I help him with his 5th grade math.
Young children act like drunken grandfathers, giving their opinion honestly, openly and at the worst possible times. I knew my time was coming, it was just a question of when. The year before, when P turned 3, we had a Thomas the Train party because he was obsessed with those $80 cabooses. After opening about the sixth train, P fell back in his little wood rocking chair completely exasperated throwing his hands in the air exclaiming “Ugh, another train?”
This birthday was going to be different. I had a lethal combination of brainwashing and blackmail in store for P to reduce the chances of awkwardness. Two weeks from his Barney themed birthday party I began to coach him on how to graciously accept a gift even if it’s a duplicate or one he doesn’t care for.
“P” I began, “If you get something you don’t like it’s almost better. You know why?” His little blue eyes looked up from the Monet he was painting and asked, “Why?”
“Because then we go to the store, exchange the gift and you can pick out something you want!”
He found this idea agreeable and I was confident I had planted the seed. I continued, “So if you get something you don’t like, don’t say mommy I don’t like this. Simply pretend you like it, say thank you and then we’ll go exchange it. Cool?” He shook his head and went back to his masterpiece.
We had the same conversation every three days. As his birthday approached, I upped my attack by agreeing to get him a Build a Bear if he pretends to like gifts he does not. Closer to the date, I added dashes of guilt with phrases like “we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings” or “how would you feel if you got someone something and they said they didn’t like it?”
The day had arrived. It was an unseasonably nice day for a Saturday in March. The party would be at our home and so far 15 kids had RSVP’d. We had games, cake and gift opening planned for the next two hours.
After all the kids were exuding signs of sugar highs, we thought this would be the perfect time to ask all of them to sit quietly around P to watch him open gifts they would never be playing with. If you’ve ever been to a kid’s birthday party you’ll find that placing your child in the center of a circle of children is like putting road kill in a circle of vulchers. After about the third gift, you have to play a cop at a criminal scene asking everyone to “move back” and “there’s nothing to see here folks.”
Half way into the gift opening he began to open something that resembled a book. From my experience at birthday parties and with my own children, there are 2 things you do not get kids between the ages of 4 to 10: books and clothing. I don’t know what this mother was thinking but I was secretly revoking her mom card for the day.
This would be the tester of everything I had taught my young padawan. Upon ripping the last bit of paper off the gift and flipping it over to see a Go Diego Go title, I knew right then and there, he was not happy. Simultaneously, I was trying to send him telepathic messages of ‘God help you if you say anything other than thank you.’
With a twinkle in his eye you could tell he was proud of what he was about to say. He looked up at all the guests, grinned at me then methodically announced, “Mommy, I’m going to pretend I like this.”
My face turned red yet I giggled quietly.
“No baby, Diego is great. Can’t wait to read this to you.”
‘I’m sorry,’ I mouthed to the mother that got P this stupid gift. She quickly swiped her hand and mouthed back ‘no problem.’
Fast forward 6 years later and now birthdays are ridiculously easy. Swear to God, every gift he received last year was a gift card. Either it’s the age or word spread after his 4th birthday about his faux pas.