catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 13 :: 2011.07.08 — 2011.07.21


Extravagant birthdays and extreme poverty

When Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes celebrated their daughter’s second birthday, they spent a reported $100,000 to commemorate her special day — $45,000 in food, $17,000 in fresh flowers and who-knows-how-much for 1,000 butterflies to fly around their daughter’s head.

While this celebrity style bash may make seem over-the-top extravagant, I have noticed that many parents like myself feel an increasing amount of pressure to celebrate our children’s birthdays with style. In my suburban neighborhood, it is not unusual to rent a giant air-filled jump tent or a pony for the kids to ride. After awhile, my husband and I felt ourselves getting caught up in this trend.

One year we took a group of my daughter’s friends to a miniature golf and arcade center. The next year, we celebrated with a tour of a donut chain. Since my daughter is an only child, this wasn’t too hard on us financially. It didn’t really bother me until my daughter turned to me and asked, “What are we going to do to celebrate my birthday this year?”

Her question made me stop and think about the values I was instilling in her.

I reassured myself that my daughter is not a spoiled child. She is generous and kind and undemanding. Yet, the toys that she and her classmates were beginning to want were growing increasingly expensive. Electronic hand held game systems and the games that went with them were pricey. Where would it end?

The world of materialism was quickly encroaching on our lives. I was troubled by the radical difference between my daughter’s suburban life and the lives of millions of children in other less affluent countries.  All you have to do is Google “world hunger” and “children” and you will gain much needed perspective.

One site estimates that 15 million children die of hunger every year. The World Health Organization estimates that one third of the world is well fed, one third is under fed and other third is starving. Nearly one in four people — 1.3 billion — live on less than one dollar per day. Approximately 183 million children weigh less than they should for their age — while, in the United States, one of the biggest growing problems facing our children is obesity.

It is impossible to read those statistics and not feel slightly ill at our propensity for indulgence and over-spending. In these economic times, many of us are making adjustments to decrease spending. But I think an even more radical adjustment must be made in our hearts and passed down to our children. They must not be allowed to grow up and think that they are entitled to pony rides and inflatable jump tents. They must not be allowed to think that every child has such riches.

My efforts to correct this have been stumbling and slow. The year my daughter posed her “what will do we to celebrate my birthday” question, we decided to sponsor a young girl through World Vision. I chose this particular child because she shared the same birthday as my daughter. She is now 14, and when she sends us letters she writes about school, her pet goat, her favorite soup and her church. Her last photo showed so many changes in five short years. She is smart, beautiful, and I’m proud to have played a small role in her life.  We have written to her, and my daughter uses a part of her allowance to support her. It has been good for her to understand that there is another girl — her exact same age — who is so different and yet so similar.

World Vision is one of many organizations that offer an opportunity to teach children about giving and the desperate needs of many who share our globe. Samaritan’s Purse does this as well through Operation Christmas Child. Packing a shoe box of gifts for a child in another country — giving in a time often focused on wish lists, Santa and getting — can give our kids much needed perspective.

These and many other worthy organizations deserve our prayers and financial support. But they can also be useful in teaching our children an important lesson. It is my prayer that our kids will realize the extravagant way that God has blessed their lives. I pray that we can teach them to be thankful, to be generous and to be burdened for those less fortunate.

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