Last year, my son went through a duck phase. As in, one day, he walked up to me in all seriousness and said, "I think it's time we got a duck." Like it's been on his to-do list for ages and he had put it off for far too long.
"Baby, where are we going to put a duck? A duck needs water. We don't live close to water."
He scrunched his nose at me in the way that he does that makes him look slightly like a shar pei and said, "he can live in the bathtub, right?"
I took a deep breathe and thought for a moment. There was no way I was going to let him have a duck. Uh-uh. We already have a dog, two cats, a guinea pig, two hermit crabs and a fish. But I didn't want to crush his spirit either. "Honey, we have to think about what's best for a duck and he wouldn't be happy living in a tiny, little bath tub."
Then I deflected. "But lets go downstairs and see how much bread we have and we'll go feed the ducks at the park!" He ran down the stairs and I rubbed my forehead and thought, "whew, dodged that bullet!"
A few weeks later, after his morning constitution, he came out of the bathroom holding a World Vision catalog. "I know what I want to do for my giving birthday!"
We have a tradition in our family, when each of our children turns 7 years old, we have a giving birthday where we have a party but they forgo gifts from friends and instead collect items for someone else. Our oldest daughter collected items for a homeless shelter. My son had a completely different idea.
"I want people to buy ducks as my gifts!" he said.
Through World Vision, people can buy ducks and give them to poor and starving families around the world, mostly those who live in flood prone areas. Hey, you can buy a goat but a goat won't float! These ducks help in many ways. Their eggs provide protein for the families; the down can be used as thermal insulation and padding and extra eggs can be sold to buy clothes, medicine and even send children to school. One duck can be life-changing for a family and even a community!
After checking to make sure that he understood these ducks were not going to be showing up at our doorstep and he would not in fact be the proud new owner of a gaggle, I hugged him and told him how very proud I was of his generosity.
His party was at a science center and all of his friends came with cards that said, "three (or five) ducks have been donated in your name." In all, he gave almost 30 ducks to needy families. He still has the collection of cards. In a way, he got his ducks after all and he will always have them.
Setting aside one birthday to give to others teaches a huge lesson in sacrifice and generosity. It also helps distinguish between wants and needs. We still give our children one gift from us and they enjoy the party and their friends. The cost of donating ducks was only $18 and nobody that donated thought it was too much. In fact, they commented on how reasonable the price was and how they actually spent less than they would have buying a regular gift!
You can give all kinds of animals, clothes, clean water, shelter, education and medicine. All for less than what it would cost you to buy a large box of Legos. It's a win-win. Your children as well as children around the world, get something valuable out of the whole experience!
I have found that when I plant this idea as a seed in my children's minds, they come up with the most creative, amazing ideas! Ideas I would have never considered. So the next time a birthday rolls around, inquire of your children's thoughts on giving. Chances are, they'll surprise you!