I seem to remember reporting solemnly on the events of Big Al’s third birthday on this very blog. Well: this September ushered in his seventh.
Life is insanely busy and it was not until 6:30pm on a balmy September Wednesday evening that I found time to post the present and card in the panniers and jump on the bike to pedal down to the nearby house of my quicksilver, indispensable nephew.
I parked the bike outside and my sister opened the door. “Al!” she hollered. “Come and see what Auntie Kate’s got! She’s come to say Happy Birthday!
A small figure wearing a small pair of underpants and a beatific grin (one of his favourite lounging outfits) appeared at the door.”Hello Auntie Kate!” he beamed hospitably. I surmised it had been a good birthday.
But my sister confided it had not started well. Al loves presents, but he’s not big on change. Birthdays are irregular, and if you’re not careful everything is different. He opened his first present: a state-of-the-art three-wheeler scooter. But it was just too new to countenance. Al, his mother reports, scowled thunderously.
When all is darkest, and tempers are frayed, there sometimes comes a tiny window of time in which listening is the only way out. My sister calls it ‘The Teachable Moment’. She waited patiently for it to appear, and, like an expert meteorologist, gauged exactly when the clouds would clear and she could talk a little sense into Big Al.
They role-played. “Al,” my sister said, “when you get a present, you can’t just look at it and stomp and say ‘that’s a stupid present.’ That would hurt the feelings of the person who gave it to you. Sometimes – even if you think it is rubbish – you need to smile as if it were the most amazing present in the world. And what do you think you say, even if the present’s a bit boring?”
Al meditated on this for a short spell. “I’d say, ‘this is an amazing present! Thank you so much!’ ”
My sister nodded sagely. “Right,” she said. “We’re going to practice.”
She picked up an old tea towel and folded it up. Al wrinkled up his nose.
“Now,” she said. “This tea towel is really rather boring, isn’t it?”
Al nodded vigorously.
“Right then,”my sister continued. “I’m going to give it to you as a birthday present, and I want you to choose the right words to say.”
Solemnly, she handed over the tea towel. “Happy Birthday, Al.”
Al’s acting skills have never been in question; but this was a performance straight out of the Olivier method-acting school. “What a wonderful present! I’ve never had anything as brilliant as this before. Thank you so much: you’ve made my birthday.”
Mother and son smiled. They had this covered.
All day, Al had been delighted and amazed and really very pleased indeed, so much so that the actor’s union Equity should have offered him membership free for a year. Some presents had been great and some a bit so-so, but they all got the Olivier treatment.
I arrived and watched him receive a duvet cover covered in Minions from Grandma and before he even knew what it was – he loves minions – he was already telling her how brilliant the package was.
It was drawing near to Big Al’s bedtime. I slipped out quietly, before he could tell me just how wonderful and amazing was the bedroom lamp I had bought for him.
33 thoughts on “Saying Thank You: A Big Al Story”
What a lovely surprise gift, a Big Al post.
Can’t believe its four years since I started writing about him, Lou!
Please wish Big Al a most excellent seventh birthday from me. I would attempt to send him a lizard, but I doubt it would survive the trip, let alone pass quarantine. 🙂
I shall pass on the best wishes of Al’s favourite Lizard-lady, Andra. Oh, to have lizards living here in the UK. We only have newts and they skulk in ponds, which doesn’t impress Al one jot.
It’s a shame when “good manners” requires us to lie. 😛
Happy Birthday, Al!
Aw, lie schmie, Nancy 😀 Life is a social dance. If we said what we thought all the time we’d be social pariahs….well, I would, anyway…I am reminded of the autistic young man who was at a party where we were. A really warm, lovely young man. It was a radio station party and one of the ageing DJs was there with his latest young girlfriend on his arm. Our young man stood there and said precisely what everyone was thinking: “Of course, she’s an awful lot younger than you, isn’t she?” Awkward. But memorable. But awkward.
I agree that we don’t want Big Al looking at a gift, shaking his head, and saying, “This is rubbish.”
But we can focus on a happy medium by encouraging children to thank the giver if they don’t care for the gift. “Thank you so much . . . How sweet of you to think of me . . . What a dear you are.”
As for the comment to the DJ . . . I love it!
Perhaps people wouldn’t make so many peculiar choices if we all emulated that warm lovely young man in his efforts to encourage the emperor to put on some clothes.
Happy Birthday to Big Al, no longer the little Al
Thanks Sidey 😀 I’ll pass it on.
With a squishy hug that makes him squirm please
*chuckling* “The Teachable Moment” – inspired. 🙂
My sister is one of the quiet geniuses of life, BB. She has to be.
I hope Big Al has a brilliant birthday.
Hi Gale! Thank you, I’ll make sure his mum reads this and passes it on!
wonderful, just wonderful.. c
😀 The boy is a never-ending source of material, Celi. And also, rather great cuddles.
Big Al stories are second only to Macaulay stories from my point of view, and this one was delightful.
Glad you enjoyed it, Karen 🙂 Al is on top form right now.
Big Al is clearly a fast learner in the faking it department. Could we have a future prime minister in the making, Kate?
Ha! His mother would have to be a very close adviser if he ever made it, Virginia!
Good advice for Al. As our world gets madder and madder, it’s best not to piss any one off..you just don’t know what they might do.:) I put a smiley face, but it’s not that funny.
I think we all have to be a little canny most of the time, Roger. In-your-face honesty can be unsettling, and it can, on occasions, make enemies. Best, as you say, to adopt a moderate approach.
A Lamp?! What?! 🙂
😀 There was method in my madness….Al is very worried about the dark and he had broken his bedroom lamp so his mum asked if we could buy him one as a birthday present.
Wonderful way to practise for the stage!
It is SO frustrating when one goes out of the way to find a special present, and it is laid to one side and the packaging is played with. Mind you, maybe de light here would haves switched him on.
I think on this occasion, it might, Col. But it is so exhausting being delighted with one’s presents all the time, and I thought, why not gee Al a much needed break?
My goodness; seven years old, already! Well, now, he’s made the most of it and learned the delicate art of a gracious thank you. Lovely, Kate, as a Big Al story always is. Congratulations to the birthday boy.
Thank you, Penny. I know my sister is reading comments and will pass on your congratulations to Al. He had a great day, all in all.
I can’t believe how the years have flown. Big Al stories always make me smile 🙂
Cindy, I have to pinch myself to realise I have been writing about Al for so long. Still: he still seems very little to me.
I love the way your sister is teaching Al about some social graces. I sometimes cringe when the girls don’t show enthusiasm even for gifts they like. They seem to get a bit self-conscious when opening presents and then don’t even say a good thank you! I’m going to have to think about how to do a little coaching on the side–Sophia turns 7 in October. You’ve inspired me. Happy birthday to Al. He is such a charming and fun little boy–growing up rather quickly!
Thank you, Debra! It’s always hard, isn’t it, striking a balance? But the day went swimmingly because of that little bit of role-play. A great day was had by all. Thank you for all your ‘popping-in’ today! I shall be over to see you shortly. I need my fix of that wonderful light and scenery. And, of course, positivity 🙂