Today we will, among other things, be taking birthday gifts to the 4 year old twins. They account for two of the five February birthdays of our grandchildren, and then in March there are currently three more. This makes for a lot of trips to toy stores as the oldest of our grandchildren are 12.

Many of the trips are just plain fun. Each time we see new items that are more and more sophisticated. Of course, they are also more and more expensive. As our innumerate neighbor in Kentucky once said, “Anything more than three is many” and our corollary when we were traveling with our children became, “anything times five is expensive.” And now, we are buying for 20 grandchildren with more on the way, so these $75+ toys are a bit beyond us. So we look for the cute, clever, innovative toys and sometimes we get lucky and find them and other times, we continue looking.

A few days ago, we gave one 4 year old grandson his very own toy Black and Decker power drill. It was really cute. It was also really short-lived. After he had turned it on for five minutes, it stopped working. He brought it to me. I had no clue as to how to fix it. His father and grandfather got a screwdriver, opened the battery compartment and checked the batteries with a battery checker. They were fine. But the drill was not working at all.

So yesterday, we took it back, explained to the storekeeper exactly what had happened and asked for an exchange or credit. He proceeded to try to work the drill. It didn’t work. He took a screwdriver and opened the battery compartment and took out the batteries. We tried to tell him once again that the batteries were fine. He insisted on taking out his big box of stray batteries and trying a number of combinations of batteries and surprisingly, the drill still didn’t work. Finally he said, reluctantly, “Well, if you want to get a different one, you can.” The expression on his face seemed to say, “Stupid Americans; they want the toy to work too?” We went to the back of the store and found two identical drills. When we got them up to the front counter, each one worked a little. Sometimes when you turned the switch they turned. Sometimes, they didn’t. He assured us that it was fine that a toy could sometimes work and sometimes not, but we stubborn people actually wanted a toy that would work. After all, four year olds have enough trouble figuring out the world. They really don’t need to reason out the whims of an inanimate object. So we asked for a credit and bought two non-mechanical toys for two of the March birthdays.

But when I think of birthdays, I really don’t think of toys. I think about what a wonderful gift life is and how watching people grow from year to year is one of the greatest rewards of growing older myself. It’s a wonderful compensation for the emerging wrinkles as I see babies I held in my arms become parents and their babies emerge as individuals. One of my children once told me that he doesn’t like birthdays. “Why should I receive gifts? I haven’t done anything to deserve them.” I should have told him then that the gifts are an expression of gratefulness to the Creator for having given us life and that our celebrating our birthdays is one way of recognizing the wonders of His creation.

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