I had a birthday the other day. Not a milestone one, but rather a run-of-the-mill, another-year-older-and-slower one.
I was thrilled when Veronica and the kids “surprised” me at the train station after work and took me to dinner at the local diner. It was a perfect cap to a low-key day — a meal with my family. After dinner, we returned home to open cards and presents.
My daughter had a surprise for me. For years, Veronica has created clever scavenger hunts for both kids on Easter and other occasions, and now it was Riley’s turn to flip the script. She had me chasing all over the house before finding my gift where she had hidden it in the car. The gift was an adorable sock puppet/stuffed animal she made herself. I don’t know what inspired her to do it. We typically don’t have the kids buy or make us birthday presents.
Nonetheless, it was a sweet gesture and I happily played along with the hunt. After it was over, I thanked her and then playfully teased Ryan.
“Riley, thank you for my gift,” I said. “And Ryan, thank you for my … NOTHING!”
He thought it was hilarious but I told him I didn’t expect anything and was only teasing anyway. I wanted to make sure he didn’t have any bad feeling about it, because there was absolutely no expectation for him to get me a present.
At bed time, Ryan had a surprise for me.
“Dad, I DID get you a present,” he called from his room.
When I asked what it was, he brought me one of his Pillow Pets. He has four of them — a turtle from years ago that he barely looks at and three sports-team mascots. The first line of NHL Pillow Pets didn’t include a San Jose Shark, so we got him a Capitals one. Later he got the Shark as well as a New York Jets one. They’re all among the rotation of items that sometimes appear on his bed, but mostly get stuffed between the bed and the wall. (Something that happens too often for it to be random. It has to be some sort of comfort mechanism.)
It was the Capitals Pillow Pet — featuring the mascot of my favorite team — that he brought me.
“Here,” he announced. “Happy Birthday!”
And with that, the Capitals pet became mine. It has spent the nights since in our room. I doubt it will ever return to his.
In the morning he sought reassurance that his gesture meant he HAD given me a gift. I told him of course it did, and then thanked him, again.
A small gesture, sure, but there are no small things when it comes to Ryan’s social development. He genuinely cared about wanting to give me a present after seeing that Riley had done so. He looked at his possessions and picked the one that would mean the most to me.
All of these are steps in learning to think as others’ think — something that has never come naturally, or easily, for Ryan. There was a time when he lacked the ability to see the world from someone else’s point of view, but, as in so many other areas, he has made huge strides.
When it comes to gifts, it truly is the thought that counts. In Ryan’s case especially, the thought itself is the gift.