The Unbirthday Present

Ever since I can remember, my family have practised the fine art of Unbirthday Presents.

For each child who has a birthday, all siblings receive a small token of the household’s appreciation too.

Unbirthday Presents vanquish the tantrums of those fine young people who feel that, while the correct date has not yet arrived, it should by rights be their birthday too.

But they have the far more positive effect of causing all participants under 10 to look forward with warm appreciation to the birthday of a sibling.

Yesterday it was the birthday of one of the princesses: my pretty picture-book nieces who live just down the road with their small but definite four-year old brother, Al.

We turned up at the party to pay our respects to the little princess. The children had been to see a birthday film – Brave – and Al was nowhere to be seen.

“He got a bit scared,” his mother confided.

It appears the mother in the film turns into a bear and she has her fiercer moments. “She did go raaaaaaah!” Al told his mother disconsolately.

He sat convalescing in the sitting room with his favourite television programme, and did not make an appearance for the scrumptious banquet which included bacon crunchy crisps and strawberries dipped in Green and Black’s white chocolate.

There is one thing which can rouse Al from doldrums such as this, and that is Presents.

GrandmaΒ bustled into the kitchen with a big bag of packages wrapped in silver paper.

Al eyed his tubular parcel with speculative approval.

All thoughts of roaring bears vanished. This sparkly bundle was a most promising shape. With help he managed to remove all packaging to reveal a carefully researched Marks and Spencer’s sponge gun.

Satisfyingly long and chunky, it is essentially a huge water syringe. Dip the end in the water and pull out the stopper at the other end: and hey presto. A water syringe with a gratifying range of quite far away.

“No!” yelled my sister,”not over the fence, Al!”

The new acquisition held a substantial amount of water. An unsuspecting neighbour walking in their garden next door risked a drenching. I pottered outside.

“Al, I said, “we keep all our gun water in THIS garden.”

He considered this.


“Because you might splosh someone on the head.”

That made sense. He adjusted his aim and turned his gun affably on the household collie.

I scrabbled for the right words to protect the dog from next door’s grisly fate. “Al, can you hit the flowers? Try the yellow one. Now the red ones. And the purple ones right over there in the corner.”

Smugly I watched as Al conducted target practice.

But the dog was not safe for long. Shooting flowers holds extremely limited charm for four-year old boys. It’s not naughty enough.

And then the penny dropped: the dog loved the water. The dog was chasing the water. This was a ready-made, cyclical game in which Al could get up to no mischief whatsoever. The ancient team of boy and dog had once more united in a happy Β union.

I strolled inside to the other grownups and claimed my cup of tea. For Al was safe. The dog was safe. The neighbours were safe.

From my seat next to the window I watched in a kind of slow-motion as Al turned towards the house and spied his sisters and their twittering friends, clearly audible, planning a fashion show from the wide open upstairs window.

A wicked light appeared in Al’s eye. That window was Quite Far Away.

He took aim.

He fired.

Just when you think you have sewn up the loopholes, Al will always find another.


48 thoughts on “The Unbirthday Present

  1. The unbirthday present is an excellent solution. There’s always problems with our daughter’s children when one is having a birthday and the other isn’t. I just fear the escalation in price, with increasing age. When you give one of them a helicopter for her birthday, the other would have to have at least an expensive sports car. That’s probably Granny Mittal’s problem:)

  2. Has he tried water bombs yet, from upstairs windows? ( πŸ˜‰ )

    Boys do like their water, don’t they. I used to say if they got me wet i wouldn’t be able to prepare the next meal. It usually kept me safe.

  3. Always the opportunist! A neighbourhood child has something similar. He stopped in the middle of the junction opposite to fill his weapon from a puddle. Causing all the turning traffic to have to wait (impatiently). πŸ˜‰

  4. Girls, especially sisters, are irresistible to boys with water of any sort. It falls into the category of natural physics. Newton had nothing on Big Al.

  5. I am familiar with the physics Kate, grew up with a younger brother! I thought boys were peskiest at that age till my grandsons turned five….they were of course, just being boys πŸ™‚ Needless to say the daughter doesn’t agree.

  6. We had Unbirthday Presents when I was a kid, though there were only two of us, so it was easy enough.
    And who would give Al a water-gun? Do they not read this blog?

  7. Oh, I did laugh at this.
    A participating dog isn’t enough fun. You need something that squeaks and squeals, not so? You should have foreseen that.
    How successful was his aim?

  8. You already know I love this little guy! I taught pre-K for years, so I’m well tuned to 4 year old little boys. Somehow I was always the teacher assigned the boys who were just a bit mischievous. I am sure it’s because I simply adored the way their minds work. I am also certain that if grandma gave Al a water gun she was quite aware he was going to employ the most creative methods to keep the rest of you alert and attentive. All eyes on Al! What a delightful story! Such a great dog to have as sidekick to a four year old adventurer! πŸ™‚ Debra

  9. My only problem with this story is that there was no photo of Al with the gleam in his eye, looking up at the window. Although I’m pretty sure I can imagine it fairly well.

  10. Oh, funny, Kate, and once again reminding me of my cousin, Louie, and his penchant for the garden hose; his mother’s, ours, and the neighbors. Poor Mrs. Lunachek, sitting in her chair, watching the cars go back was a victim. So was the neighbors’ newly remodeled kitchen. It seems the copper pots and pans on the wall, all glistening, were too much a temptation . . .

  11. Dangling somewhere on the little arrow connected to the symbol representing the male gender rides a tiny satchel of extra stategy powder. I’m positive about this, Kate. My brother’s satchel was endlessly filled. I could not outwit him.

  12. I think it also works to mischievous Al’s advantage to be the runt of the litter. When my pal, Martini Max, was 8, and his sister, Dottie P., was 4, Max distracted Dottie from her beloved doll baby buggy long enough to unfasten all four wheels. She’s been exacting revenge on him for this prank for 43 years.

  13. Dear Kate, once a psychic told me that I’d been “a nice little girl” all my life–I was about 60 at the time–and that I needed to practice being “naughty” for a while. I think that with Al as my mentor, I could have pulled this off! Peace

  14. LOL! Love this post, Kate… it brings my ‘little’ brother vividly to mind. Four and a half years younger than my sister and me, he ambushed plenty of our games too πŸ˜€

  15. That Y chromosome does come with some built in mischief, doesn’t it? My boys have some plastic fake poo that for a while kept mysteriously finding its way onto my pillow. πŸ™‚

  16. The unbirthday present is an interesting idea. I only had one child, but I can imagine it would be helpful on a birthday!

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