What to Get a Baby for His Birthday

This weekend we celebrated my nephew’s second birthday. He ate chips and guacamole (or rather, ate guacamole using a chip as a utensil) and played with three kinds of train sets. He hated the happy birthday song, but liked the part where we said his name. He ignored his piece of cake. When he started to get tired and had enough of the party, he went around to each guest and gently prodded them: “Bye.”

People brought presents, and he helped open them. His eyes only lit up at one, the first, a locomotive that was also bubble blower. The accompanying gallon jug of bubble solution also proved to be moderately interesting. The rest of the gifts — a drum, a bathing suit, some pajamas, baby’s first golf set, a pint-sized recliner, a trash truck, and on and on, will be loved and enjoyed, sometime, I’m sure. Maybe.

Aunt of the year, I didn’t get him anything.

I’d wanted to get him the perfect something, but I’d run out of time, of money, of ideas. My quest for a gift brought me to a toy store, one of the nice ones, with wooden kitchens and felt play food and a section marked “proudly made in the USA.” Stuffed animals are always irresistible, but having just culled through my own collection on my last trip home, I was wary of burdening him with an additional teddy bear that it would hurt his heart to throw away in twenty-five years (or fewer-I can be sentimental). Nothing else spoke to me. He loves trains, but he has trains. He loves being outside, but he lives next to a park. He doesn’t need anything, and he’s too young to appreciate a tiny thing meant only to say: “I considered you.”

I left the toy store empty-handed, then went to a clothing shop that had lots of lovely little boy things. I looked at little desert boots and denim jackets and madras shorts and wanted to get him one of everything, but got him nothing. Babies don’t care about clothes.

I sat on my hands during the present-opening. I felt a pang of regret at as I watched his excitement at the bubble train, and I wished that I had gotten it for him. That I had purchased something and put it in his hands and made him happy. But then someone had something he wanted and he was off after other things, bubble train forgotten, for now.

And then I realized: Babies don’t give a shit about presents.

Most of the presents I’ve bought for him during his little life have been for a future version of himself: a drawing of his parents, a Swedish knapsack that is the size that he is now, an Italian wool blazer that will fit him in a few years, stacks of books. At Christmas I did get him a red union suit. He looked adorable. He didn’t care.

I’d considered opening some kind of account for him, and every birthday and holiday putting in the $20 or $40 or whatever that I would have spent on plastic crap. It seemed complicated. So now my plan is that one day I’ll write him a check, a good and big one, equalling years and years of plastic toys not purchased. I’ll tell him not to spend it all in one place, pause, and then tell him that actually, he can spend it wherever he wants. Happy birthday, baby.

Photo Credit: flickr/protohiro

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