I well remember the day I learned I was NOT the center of the universe. Probably one of the most difficult lessons of my childhood.
My 10th birthday was approaching. I was uber-excited at the prospect of getting a gift, and maybe even a birthday cake – two things that were in short supply during that time in my family’s financial condition.
By today’s standards of over-the-top gift-giving, my excitement over a single gift must seem a bit sad. But in a house of seven people, the idea of receiving something that would be all my own was cause for celebration.
At any rate, for several days I must have yammered away non-stop about what my folks were going to give me – begging for clues, offering suggestions. Pop, the beaker of his patience completely emptied, scolded me. Besides commanding me not to say one more word about it (a no-brainer for me, since Pop’s spankings ranked fairly high on the scale of things to be avoided), he said no one owed me a gift. He said gifts were given, not earned. Then he said not only was my onslaught “enough to drive a wooden man crazy,” but that he and Mom were going to teach me a lesson by not giving me anything at all that year.
And they didn’t. No cake. No gift. Not even so much as a spoken or sung Happy Birthday. Pop even commanded my siblings not to mention my birthday. I must admit to being crushed.
Many would frown on Pop’s tactic. I frowned, and still frown on it. But he was a product of his generation – a time when children were seen and not heard. And his effort had the desired effect: I was never again quite sure of getting anything for birthdays. Or for Christmas. And when I did, I was grateful.