Birthdays are for giving, not just receiving

April 2nd, 2013 § 9 comments

IMG_3833It’s been a wonderful but long few days. I was so run down yesterday that after our egg hunt I got into bed and pretty much didn’t get out for 9 hours. Tristan’s birthday was absolutely delightful. We held a birthday party, something he’s never had before. We’re not big on parties in our family; instead, we always have small family celebrations.

One year, Tristan was at Shriners Hospital for Children on his birthday having hand reconstruction surgery. When the surgeon you want has an opening in his schedule, you don’t say no because it’s your four year-old’s birthday.

When we’ve done parties it’s been my tradition to have a no-presents party. Our children get presents from us and close friends. Party guests, however, are not allowed to bring them (it’s fascinating to me how many people have a difficult time following this rule). Instead, they’re asked to bring the money they would have spent on a gift and donate it to charity (we designate Shriners Hospital for Children). Each party we’ve had in the past has raised at least $500. Paige has had two or three parties through the years, Colin has had two. In those particular years they got the party, cake, and presents from family members. This was more than enough.

IMG_4948 We put a donation box out at the party and everyone can stuff the box. This year Paige wrapped and decorated the shoebox. The children who are bringing the donations also get a lesson in the joy of giving to others. Often the parents tell me that their children don’t understand why they can’t bring a present. That’s okay with me, I think it’s fine to force a discussion about  giving to those in need. My children take pride in doing something good, and even when they are young and want to know why guests can’t bring gifts, I feel no guilt in explaining that not all children can afford to pay for the operations they need. When parents say to me, “Oh, I would love to do that but I don’t know how my child would respond,” I never quite understand that. It’s our jobs as parents to be role models, to show our children what’s important.

When I had my own 40th birthday party a few years ago I did the same thing I have my children do: I asked guests to bring donations to charity in place of a gift. We must be willing to do ourselves what we ask of our children.

Shriners Hospitals provides care regardless of financial situation with an emphasis on orthopaedic care, spinal cord injuries, and burns. Tristan’s complex hand reconstruction helped him tremendously, he was able to have 3 procedures at the same time (a tendon transfer, a z-plasty to widen the web space, and a ligament tightening at the base of his thumb). Should he need cervical fusion surgery for the hemivertebrae and malformations in his neck that is where we will go (I’ve written elsewhere about Tristan’s congenital deformities in his spine and left hand). The team in Philadelphia including Dr. Randal Betz, Dr. Scott Kozin and physician’s assistant extraordinaire Janet Cerrone are very special to us.

IMG_4927Invitations and stickers from Easton Place Designs and the most adorable cookies from One Tough Cookie helped to make the day special. Tristan loved his karate party, and I love that I’ll be sending a big envelope to Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia from Tristan. I am so grateful to the families who helped to make this birthday so special for Tristan. I thank them on behalf of the children who will benefit from their generosity. Everyone does what’s right for them. This type of birthday celebration is what feels right to me.



In case you missed it, Seth Mnookin had a great piece on Slate about the Time magazine cover about cancer. He and I had a great talk about this and I’m quoted briefly in the piece. You can read it here.

** Also, a reminder I’ll be on Doctor Radio (SiriusXM channel 81) this Wednesday, April 3rd at 1 PM EST on the Oncology Show. You can check the schedule here, and it does repeat a few times during the week. I am going to try to get an audio file for those of you interested in listening who won’t have access to it live. The topic? One of the most popular here on the blog: how to talk to people with cancer in a sensitive and caring way.



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§ 9 Responses to Birthdays are for giving, not just receiving"

  • Kristin says:

    That’s fantastic. We haven’t had many “friends” parties, but maybe now we will. Kids love to do things for others, and I agree that they have more than they need. Just lovely.

  • Laura Lump says:

    I’m happy to report that this trend in emphasizing giving over receiving is bigger than ever within the Jewish community here in the north shore of Milwaukee. With my Ben now receiving Bar and Bat Mitzvah invitations by the handful, we are so pleased to see that probably 4 out of 5 say that no gifts will be accepted and that, instead, we are to bring money to a charity the child has chosen. One girl also had a food collection at her party. That sure is different from when I was growing up here!! It’s really great to see, and I’m impressed with the parenting (and probably also religious teaching) that’s leading to that.

  • Chris says:

    What an absolutely beautiful picture of you and your son! You are glowing and so is he!
    Sending many good thoughts your way,

  • Rebecca says:

    What a great idea! Too late for our birthdays this year, but definitely a wonderful thing, especially when you have a charity so close to your heart.
    I also read Seth’s article. I did not realize we were the same age practically. I just turned 42 last month.

  • Martha says:

    I just found your blog through slate. Thank you for sharing your story, your family, and your struggles. You are amazing. I will pray for you and your family.

  • Ann Green says:

    My students did weekly service at Shriners in Philly last year, and I was honored to learn more about Shriners’s work through their writing about the kids and parents they met (it was a literature and medicine course). will refer them to your blog when I teach the course again in the fall. Great idea about the birthday party!

    • Lisa Bonchek Adams says:

      that’s wonderful, thank you! On the right side of the website pages you will see tags. If you click on Shriners you will see all of the posts about our experiences there. There are 5-10 of them. If you have any trouble let me know.

  • You are an amazing woman. Thanks for all you do. xo

  • Sasha says:

    Great Article. blog post . I was enlightened by the facts , Does someone know if I could find a blank IL DHFS HFS 3654 document to work with ?

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