About three months ago E. started talking about his birthday. He was interested in learning all the months of the year and how they fit together and whose birthday is in which month and which month was coming next.
“I want a fire truck for my birthday,” he told me.
“A fire truck?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “Because I love their sirens so much.”
“But E.,” I said, “You already have a fire truck. You have a little wooden fire truck, and the big ride-on fire truck/dump truck Granny gave you for Christmas two years ago.”
“I don’t want a fire truck like that,” E. told me. “I want one like my garbage truck and my flatbed dump truck.”
He meant his Bruder trucks. They are beautifully made, and so true to life, and E. adores them, but they are not small trucks.
I really didn’t want to add another truck to our household.
I’d e-mailed his relatives with ideas for his birthday. I specifically asked them not to buy him any more trucks.
The subject of the conversation changed, and although E. told me for a few more weeks that he wanted a fire truck, eventually he stopped mentioning it. I looked for one in the store where they can be found for a heavily discounted price (because German engineering doesn’t come cheap), but I never found it.
Time passed. I ordered E. some garden tools, since he loves working with us in the garden, and these were real tools, not toys, that he would be able to use for years. After discussing it with Q., we also ordered him a couple of Mighty Machine DVDs, because he adores them, and I was getting tired of trying to remember to return them to the library on time and assuaging disappointment when the library’s copy didn’t work (probably because too many other toddlers had been so excited to watch it). One of the DVDs had the episode with the fire trucks in it.
Done, I thought.
Last weekend, out of nowhere and for the first time in well over a month (if not longer), E. piped up while we were sorting laundry.
“I’m going to get a fire truck for my birthday.”
Q. and I both tried to gently suggest that maybe there wouldn’t be a fire truck, and maybe this would be ok, and there would be other good things, and didn’t he already have lots of lovely trucks, and wasn’t his parking garage full, so there wouldn’t be room for another one.
The tears welled up in E.’s eyes.
He wiped at them with one hand while gasping out in a tiny voice, “But I want a fire truck. I love the sirens so much.”
The look on his face was one of betrayal and crushing disappointment, but I could see that he was trying (trying so hard) to control his emotions, to not get too upset by this devastating news.
Q. and I looked at each other.
“Well, we’ll see what happens on your birthday,” Q. told him.
“But you know, E.,” I added. “If you do get a fire truck for your birthday, I think that would be the last truck. You have so many trucks now and we really don’t have any more room to park them. What do you think?”
E. considered this very seriously. “I think that would be ok, Mummy,” he said. “I would be ok with it being the last truck. I promise.”
“I saw the fire truck in the local toy store,” I told Q. later that morning, when E. was playing with his trains.
Q. nodded. “I guess you’d better go and get it.”
All that morning, I debated our decision. Were we being manipulated? Were we giving in to our toddler’s demands? Were we going to spoil him? Was I being that stereotypical mother who bought my child things because I felt guilty about not spending enough time with him? Was it a snap reaction to the miscarriage and all the money we have spent on a mythical second child, money that could have gone into his education fund, or paid for a family vacation? Was it a reaction to my realization that E. is struggling with anxiety? Did I somehow think I could make him less worried about his life (and his nursery school) with a fire truck? I worried he would somehow come to equate getting stuff with love. I worried that I somehow equated buying him things with love.
I realized in the end that I didn’t really have a good reason for him NOT to have a fire truck.
I didn’t want another truck in the house, especially one with battery-powered sirens.
I didn’t think he NEEDED another truck, especially not one made by Bruder.
We’d already bought him some lovely presents, that we knew he would use and enjoy.
The trouble is, they weren’t what he’d asked for. WE decided they would be a good idea.
I had lots of reasons, but they weren’t compelling ones. They were my problems, not his.
What finally convinced me, and allowed me to buy the fire truck (for rather more than I would have liked) without a guilty conscience was this:
Almost everything E. has said to us about his birthday has been negative.
He told us he didn’t want any friends to come.
He told us he didn’t want to have a party.
He told us he didn’t want anyone to sing “Happy Birthday” to him.
In all of our discussions about his upcoming birthday, E. has asked for precisely two things:
An orange cake with chocolate icing.
And a fire truck.
It would never have occurred to me to even consider not fulfilling the first request.
There was no good reason for me to reject the second.
There will be plenty of moments of disappointment in E.’s life. There will be presents he will ask for that we simply won’t be prepared to buy. There will be things he wants to do that are unfeasible. We will say no to him, many times, and we will mean it.
We didn’t have to say no this time.
We didn’t have to disappoint our son on his birthday.
So we bought the fire truck.
And the smile on his face when he unwraps it on Thursday will tell us we did the right thing.