Around holidays and birthdays, I often recall this exchange between Aunt Petunia and Dudley Dursley in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (pg. 21):
“Thirty Six,” [Dudley] said, looking up at his mother and father. “That’s two less than last year.”
“Darling, you haven’t counted Auntie Marge’s present, see, it’s here under this big one from Mummy and Daddy.”
“All right, thirty-seven then,” said Dudley, going red in the face. Harry, who could see a huge Dudley tantrum coming on, began wolfing down his bacon as fast as possible in case Dudley turned the table over.
Aunt Petunia obviously scented danger, too, because she said quickly, “And we’ll buy you another two presents while we’re out today. How’s that, popkin? Two more presents. Is that all right?”
Dudley thought for a moment. It looked like hard work. Finally, he said slowly, “So I’ll have thirty… thirty…”
“Thirty-nine, sweetums,” said Aunt Petunia.
“Oh.” Dudley sat down heavily and grabbed the nearest parcel. “All right then.”
My six-year-old twins, who are able to do arithmetic better than Dudley can, thankfully, do not use their mathematical skills to count the gifts they receive at birthday or holidays (at least not in any obvious way). They may quietly perceive a deficit in gifts from one year to the next, but a smaller number of interesting and well-chosen gifts will usually make them happier than a larger number of dull, duplicative, or inappropriate ones.
There are often surprise hits among the gifts (and surprise disappointments). Earlier this month, with a little encouragement from their father and from me, one of their favorite birthday presents actually turned out to be the packaging.
As I discussed in When the Box Was the Present, we read Antoinette Portis’ Not a Box “to celebrate simpler, more imaginative activities” before the onslaught of gifts for both their birthday and Christmas this month. That sparsely worded children’s book, which features an imaginative rabbit, encouraged my girls to play with cardboard boxes.
Now, here’s the update:
On their birthday, a few days after we read that book, their father gave them a canister of plastic clips and hinges. M. and S. opened the canister, stared at its contents, and then got to work. They built a car, a rocket ship, and several other items from the leftover cardboard, which their two-and-a-half-year-old sister decorated with crayons and markers.
In an instant, each present became two: the box and the object inside. It helped to have the plastic connectors, but they weren’t really necessary. All it took to multiply the gifts was a little bit of imagination.
It looks like Santa’s bringing twice as many presents this year.
*Top Image: On the left is what my daughters created from boxes and on the right is what the rabbit created in Antoinette Portis’ Not a Box. Check out the book to see what else the rabbit came up with!
*Bottom Image: M. isn’t wearing a box. She’s a robot!