Good books tell the truth, even when they’re about things that never have been and never will be. They’re truthful in a different way. ~Stanisław Lem
The other day, I was speaking with a few friends of mine. About what exactly? Well, you name it, we covered most standard topics, but this part of the story was about Kyle and my belief in giving him unconventional gifts. In honor of his birthday tomorrow, I thought this was appropriate.
I’ve mentioned it previously, as a child, Kyle always had way too much. Too many toys, toys of all varieties, and he most certainly didn’t need anymore, especially from me. Now that he’s a teenager, he has too many video games, and spends way too much time on them. Do you see a pattern?
Since the birthday gifts I get Kyle are never the standard, go to the store and wrap them, type of presents, they need a fair amount of planning. My goal here? To get others thinking about gift giving in a nontraditional way, like I do. Here are a few gift givings of years past.
So what do you get a child that is spoiled and flooded with their desirable material goods, at that particular moment in life? Easy, spoil them with attention, love, knowledge, and opportunities. How does one do this? Simply with unconventional gifts.
First, what do I consider an unconventional gift? In my eyes, unconventional gifts come with some sort of bonding or learning aspect. They may also include life experiences to be engrained in the child forever, or skills to be used later in life. Of course, these are very subjective, but it’s a place to start.
When Kyle was a tiny, tiny little baby, it’s true, I did get him toys. One in particular was a large metal Optimus Prime transformer. It was really cool! It even spoke when a button was pushed, with a serious of prerecorded standard phrases including the noise the transformers make when changing from vehicle to robot or visa verse. I believe that was the last toy I purchased Kyle. He played with it for a short period of time, and I don’t think I saw it after that. In fact, I have no idea what ever happened to it. That’s when I decided to think of gifts for him differently.
Wanting Kyle to have every opportunity in the world at his fingertips, and to be exposed to all things to help him grow as a goodhearted honest person in every aspect, I knew there was more value in gift giving then instant gratification. It was time to pull out the thinking cap. And I did in a big way! I wish I recorded my gifts to Kyle when he was younger, but alas, I did not, so I’m not always exactly sure which gift went with which celebration, but not really relevant to this post anyway.
Secondly, what constitutes a celebration worthy of gift giving? Of course, there’s the standard birthdays and Christmas. However, I also give Kyle a gift for Easter, and I’ve been known to give him something for summer or for no particular reason. Well, actually the reason would include a good deed, or good behavior, or to cheer him up due to illness, or sometimes just to surprise him. That’s about it. I don’t believe in turning every occasion into an excuse to spoil our little man more. I don’t ever want him to grow up to expect material items from anyone, ever!
Please note, Kyle’s a great kid, he truly is! So when I talk about spoiling him, it’s out of love. He is certainly apart of this instant gratification generation, not waiting in anticipation or really working for things. Who’s fault is that? The family, me included, but I’m certainly not the main culprit.
Finally, what gifts have I given Kyle that fell under the classification of unconventional? Here’s a brief list. The items range in entertainment value, quality time, fundamental learning aspects, and some just plain different, or a combination of all things.
Swimming. Kyle took swimming lessons once a week, all year long at the local YMCA from the time he was five years old to about ten or eleven years. It was our time together and now he’s a great swimmer, and has no issues with being in water of all depth levels.
Gymnastics. He stayed in gymnastics for less than a year. Even though Kyle was not the athletic type, it was great for him to run around and learn certain skills, such as doing jumping jacks and tumbling. Again it was our bonding time, and I loved it. Plus, he was able to socialize with other kids.
Soccer. Kyle was really little when I had him in soccer, probably about three. He never did understand the game, not that I could have helped him. As a general rule, everyone knows I have no clue about sports. He had the opportunity to have fun, socialize with other kids, and gained a great cardio workout.
Basketball. I signed Kyle up to play on a basketball league, again through the YMCA. My sister once asked me why? I remarked, “I don’t expect him to get a call from the NBA, but if he ever wants to go shoot hoops with his friends, he would be familiar with dribbling and shooting baskets. So he’s not singled out.” Small skills that could be most invaluable to Kyle later in life.
Snowboarding. When Kyle was four, I purchased him snowboarding lessons, which he loved! Then, for a few years after that, I’d purchase him his season tickets for the slops, along with his rental and accessories (coats, pants, helmet etc.) Again, it was always something we did together and enjoyed being outside in God’s country up in the mountains. Neither one of us have been able to hit the slopes in the last couple of years, but I think we’ll both get back into it, maybe next year.
Piano lessons & Keyboards. Kyle received a keyboard to practice at my parent’s house, and one for his mom’s house, since his time was equally split. This was for his sixth birthday, I believe, and the lessons continued until last August, right after he turned twelve. Again, it was our quality time together, or whoever took him. He also showed an interest in music early on, so I complied. I believe this education really fine tuned his brain, and gave him an appreciation for music. Since that time, Kyle took up the trumpet in school, joined the jazz band, and now started playing the tuba in the marching band. He’s very accomplished at reading music, too.
Guitar and lessons. Originally Kyle wanted to rock out on the guitar. I made a deal with him, if he learned to play the piano, I’d get him guitar lessons. He kept up his end of the deal, as did I. For Christmas one year, I bought him a guitar and lessons. He took to it very well, but never practiced enough to really be able to play. He could strum the strings without looking at his fingers and follow along in his music books. He took lessons off and on for a few years, and then called it quits. He continued with the piano lessons at this time. Most would say, playing both instruments at the same time, at a young age was too much for Kyle. I completely disagree. He had the talent and the knowledge to do so. However, Kyle doesn’t like doing anything alone. If I could have played with him, and practiced along side my musician, he would have excelled. Alas, I have no music ability. Hence why I want him to be so much better than me, at everything!
Lion King tickets and dinner. For one Christmas, I purchased Kyle and the family tickets to see the Lion King at the Pittsburgh Benedium Theater. It was a nice way to spend an evening with the family, while being exposed to culture. Prior to this, Kyle loved the cartoon, The Lion King, as well as the music. So therefore, I thought he’d enjoy the musical. He did! In a big way. Although when asked about it in his early teens, Kyle doesn’t remember going. Sad. Kyle and I actually spent the entire day in Pittsburgh together, hanging out at the Carnegie Museum (mostly among dinosaurs) before meeting my parents and my sister for dinner and then off to the theater.
LegoFest Tickets. Anything to do with Legos used to be the thing to get Kyle. So when I saw LegoFest was planning on making an appearance in Pittsburgh, I jumped at the chance to get us tickets. As expected, it was a hit. Everyone gave Kyle money to purchase Legos, which only added to his experience and made it complete. We were there all day, before returning to get a few hours of hunting in.
Bricks 4 Kids Lego Camp. I purchased Kyle two different Lego Camp sessions, one morning and one afternoon, at Saint Vincent College, for a week each. He was able to socialize with other Lego lovers, and he enjoyed learning about different ways to build certain items. He was exposed to other ideas and possibilities with Legos, all brightening his week. Kyle was in heaven! It also gave him something to do in the summer, instead of playing video games and watching television. He stayed with me for the week, and I dropped him off, took him lunch, and picked him up at the end of his hard day. This was a suggestion from Lori Planinsek! Perfect!
Flash Cards. One Christmas when Kyle was two years old, I decided to purchase him addition flash cards, as well as workbooks. Did he put his nose up to them? NOT AT ALL! He loved working with me on the workbooks and he would ask me to quiz him on his math flashcards. Everyone thought that gift was a bust, but in reality, it turned out to be a big hit. So by the time he was three years old, Kyle was easily adding all numbers. Soon after that I got him subtraction flashcards. He did have a little more trouble learning, but not much. It’s no surprise that math is one of Kyle’s beloved classes that he’s in the advanced program, at least he was until this past year.
Books. It was always tradition with my family to receive books in our Easter baskets. I took it a step further and began giving Kyle books for almost all occasions. Some books I knew he wanted to read, and others I got him to expand his horizon. Those books became our shared interests, for I read most of them or I wanted to, before purchasing them for Kyle.
Written Books. With Kyle becoming a teenager, I noticed his interest in reading has become relaxed. I don’t ever want Kyle to loose his love of reading, especially since it was a struggle getting him to this point. I get it, he loves his video games, but reading is important too. So what did I do? I wrote Kyle a book. Seriously? Yep! It’s roughly a 400 page survival book that takes place in a post apocalyptic world. It includes hunting, fishing and snowboarding, all things we both love. I added elements of education and fun trivia to make it informative. It’s slightly sarcastic and witty and the main characters travel by foot from Colorado to Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Surprisingly, the book is finished, and the second in the serious has begun. All that remains is to have it professionally edited for accuracy, and then I’ll have a book printed.
Really? Yes! I truly enjoyed writing the book and I thought it’d be something Kyle would enjoy. What a better way to encourage reading, than by writing a book specifically for my young man. Once the book is at a point to publicly talk about, I’ll write a post on it. (I also started two other separate books, I’m getting into this writing thing!) I hope to give Kyle the book for this Christmas. I’m also planning on designing the cover too, with my own photography.
iPod Touch. Originally, the iPod Touch was a way for the family to keep in touch with Kyle since he didn’t have a phone yet. It was also a means to begin working him into a little bit of freedom with electronics, music and the internet, while being monitored. I setup Kyle with face-time, which he occasionally did with the family. I also setup his own iTunes account (and some credits) and of course I gave him the iPod with an engraving on the back. I did place parental controls and a tracker on it. All of which I explained to Kyle, as well as my reasoning. I wanted him to be safe, but I never wanted to be sneaky about it or deceitful. He accepted the terms of the gift, and almost appreciated my concerns. Of course, he was simply excited to get an iPod Touch! Since then, it’s been replaced and he’s been hooked up with a laptop and an iPhone 6. He did get a lot of mileage out of that gift and we benefited too!
Out of the Ordinary/Adventure
Quilt. I wanted to do something really special for Kyle’s first birthday. I mean the kid was turning one, without knowing his dad, nor would he ever remember his dad. Ryan passed away nine months prior. It was a difficult time, but I wanted to help celebrate this every special milestone with Kyle. I was given the idea to use all of Ryan’s cloths to make Kyle a quilt. I did! It ended up being a king size quilt, made from Ryan’s flannel shirts and tee shirts! To this day, I think that was the best gift I’ve ever given! It was a long road to making this gift, with the help of friends, but one worth it. Since then, I’ve never made another again.
Clay Pig. I’ve always taken clay / ceramics classes, in high school and college. I love working with clay! So it’s no surprise that I gave my love of clay, to my beloved nephew, and made him a very unique gift I knew he’d love. I made him a piggy bank! Everyone in my clay class knew the pig was for Kyle, for his birthday gift. At the time Kyle was about four years old and he was learning to count, particularly money. I was also trying to teach him to save, and to earn enough money to buy himself whatever large gift he wanted. This was also the time I taught him about tax. That kid got it. He could figure out the total of our purchases, including tax before the register would display the answer. Truly amazing! To this day, Kyle still stores his moola in the pig, and he knows I made it for him for his birthday. I’m always thinking of my little man.
On a side note, Kyle mentioned he wanted to go to England and that’s what he was saving his money for. Good choice! That was about the time Nicole and I traveled abroad. We spent a lot of time in London.
Flying Lessons. For Kyle’s ninth birthday I thought it’d be fun to get him flying lessons. YES! Again, not that I planned on him being a pilot, but it was the experience. He always mentioned how he was never in a plane, so I thought for his first time defying gratify, we’d do it right and let him fly the open skies, with an instructor, naturally. Result? Kyle remembered that experience, and looks at it fondly, almost brags to others about him flying a plane. I was so happy for him! It was a fun day. I even hired a photographer to capture the experience.
Train ride. I purchased Kyle, my sister and myself train tickets. We took the train from Latrobe to Johnstown for the day (only about a forty-minute trip). Granted, it wasn’t exciting, but it was something different. We rode the incline and explored the town of Johnstown, took a tour of the Flood Museum, and even caught a movie. (Maleficent) When we got back, we surprised Kyle and celebrated with an ice-cream cake at my parent’s house. Prior to that trip, I purchased him companion books to the Lord of the Rings. He began reading one of the books on the train.
Over the years, I’ve had many ideas for gifts, but sometimes it wasn’t the right time, or it was too expensive, or I chose another path, or I haven’t used the idea, YET. Regardless, I hope others can take my ideas for unconventional gifts and run with them, or get back to me other ideas. I’d love to hear them! Here are a few:
- Hot air balloon ride
- Surfing lessons
- A plane ride to Vermont to snowboard for the weekend
- Helicopter flying lessons or a ride
- Movie passes (which I’ve done but not for a special occasion)
- Museum passes
- Bike trip on the Great Allegheny Passage and camping along the 400 miles (I thought it would be fun to bike to Washington DC and have my sister meet us and take us home)
- Volunteer – Instead of getting Kyle anything, we’d spend a day or a week together volunteering somewhere, maybe not local to get us both out of the area and find a new adventure.
- Membership to my gym to participate in the kids class
- A robotics camp or some sort of geeky week with others like him
I know I gave Kyle many, many more gifts, and I’ve had a ton more ideas, but alas they’ve escaped me. I already know what I’m getting Kyle when he graduates high school. Really? You bet I do, and it’s really good! I’ve had this idea since he was a toddler. It’s a two part gift, and Kyle’s going to LOVE it. When the time comes, which is around the corner, I’ll let everyone in on the secret.
Here are a few blog posts about my choices for unconventional gifts:
Gift of Music – The Final Piano Lesson
Bricks 4 Kids, Kyle’s Lego Camp Birthday Surprise
Family Time Through an iPod Touch
Flying Back to Kyle’s Ninth Birthday
Discovering Our Own Backyard – Johnstown
Memories Sewn Into a Quilt