A paper plate for a birthday present?

My daughter’s friend is turning 4. “We need to get a birthday present,” I told her, and started figuring out when we could go to a toy store.

My daughter’s excitement was off the charts. “Oooh, oooh, oooh!” she squealed. “I want to take a paper plate! And I want to make her a silver cat! I want to paint on a paper plate for her present!”

Huh, I thought. Several things ran through my mind at once:

  • Will I look bad when everybody else brings a cool new toy and my kid shows up with a paper plate?
  • They must have painted paper plates at school. Thank goodness for preschool and all the messy arts and crafts they do (that we neglect to do at home on a regular basis).
  • She is so excited about this! We’re definitely doing it. But should I also get a second store-bought present?

I thought about kids’ birthday parties. How the kids sometimes have more fun opening presents than playing with them. How the numbers of gifts can get overwhelming. How parents may not necessarily want or need the small mountain of stuff. How we reflexively buy presents instead of make them because, well, that’s what everybody does. What a nice time my daughter and I would have painting, instead of schlepping ourselves in a car to a store and staring at the thousands of choices, wondering what might capture her friend’s heart.

So I got over myself.

I took down two thick paper plates from the kitchen cabinet. My daughter got out her paints. We sat down across from each other, grinning, and started to paint. Some would say that over-consumption (buying, eating, drinking, working; pick your preferred distraction) is a form of compensating when we aren’t meeting our fundamental human needs. One of those needs is to create. Even if it’s just on paper plates. Either way, it did feel good to make something.

My daughter painted “parts of a rocket ship” on one side, and on the other side, a heart around herself “with two braids.” I painted a scene from a story she had made up about her and the birthday girl. (She informed me that’s not really what it looked like.)

What I love about this gift is that it is truly an expression of my daughter. After all, she’s the one who is besties with her friend.

And so, wrapped in a green silk, she gave the perfect present from a 4-year-old to a 4-year-old: a paper plate.

paper plate paintings

Copyright Betty Udesen / Pear Press
Written by

Tracy Cutchlow

Tracy is the author of the international bestseller Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science, a public speaker, and a creator of places to speak and be heard. Sign up for her newsletter here.

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