Leading experts say the maximum number of kids you should invite to your child’s birthday is your child’s age, plus one. Dear experts: you’re wrong.
I wish you could have been a fly on the wall at our house this past weekend. The event: my son’s fifth birthday party. The crowd: 20 kids 2, 3, 4 and 5 year olds (plus parents) having an absolute blast. No gifts were allowed, but that doesn’t mean no gifts were received. And that is why I’m writing.
We use a lot of phrases to describe our son (all you parents, you know what I’m saying here). One in particular carried the weekend. For Tyler, “Everyone is either a friend, or a potential friend.” Let me see if I can describe how this plays itself out, and maybe why it seems so amazing to me.
He uses the term “friend” liberally. This is not to say he doesn’t have degrees of friendship. He has a few “best” friends. He has someone he is going to marry. But the point is this: almost everybody he interacts with is instantly given the title “friend.” Often, he’ll start a story by asking, “Dad, you remember my friend that…” You can only imagine my difficulty in discerning who he is talking about.
He gathers people in. For weeks, he has been building his guest list and publicizing it to all who are invited, or all who are about to be (think neighbors, family friends, babysitters and the people we just talked with at Trader Joe’s). At school he spent time making sure people knew what was going to happen (i.e., “having a lot of fun”), and that their presence was important for this to happen. He also rotates around to different groups, seemingly unwilling to limit himself to one type of activity — or more importantly, one group of friends. He plays sports with some people, stuffed animals with others.
As far as the number of fiends he has, Tyler seems to have landed somewhere in between a limited five-“friend” network calling plan and that kid from Saskatchewan with 245, 000 “friends” (don’t go check on Google, I just completely made that up).
At the heart of all this is a wonderfully simple, yet immensely difficult principle I can only hope to inculcate in my life: He approaches people with opportunity and optimism, not judgment.
This is not to say he doesn’t notice difference in others, it means he does not perceive difference as a roadblock. I am astounded as I watch him walk up to someone, completely willing to allow them into his plans, his excitement, his life. It has me wondering when I stopped approaching people in this manner — or if I ever did in the first place. Frankly, it makes me wonder a lot of things, like “where did this kid come from?” Do I let people know they are a welcome part of my life? Do I give people a chance? When they walk away from me, do people say, “I’m glad I was there. And he was glad I was there”?
We all want to be known, loved and significant. It seems to me when we approach people as an opportunity for a new friend, it taps into these desires and they respond with joy. This seems to me the right way to throw a party.
So maybe don’t throw a birthday party for a 5-year-old in this way, not because it is hectic or because the place is trashed when they leave. I simply wanted to caution you, because it’s just provided a lot more challenge to my life’s ethic than I expected at the moment.