Thursday, September 8, 2011

An UnBirthday

***Disclaimer: This is not a funny post. It is certainly not meant to offend. I'm just trying to digest this because I've never encountered anything like this before. ***

Ryan's 8th Birthday on Friday. As the oldest of three kids (all who have birthdays in a 5-week span) it's not his turn for a party this year. His class celebration is pretty much all he has going for him.

Last year, he didn't go to school on his birthday. He was dressed and ready to go when we decided that he was too sick. So his awesome father went to pick up his favorite sprinkle donuts that we already ordered for the class, brought them home to his sick kid and made him a "donut tower" before bringing the remainder to his office for the vultures. We re-ordered the donuts the next week and Ryan was happy.

Here's a photo. Yes, my guys match the kitchen.

This year, I sent his teacher (who I like very much) an email just to make sure she was OK with me sending them again. Really, just from a logistical standpoint.

Her reply: I think that would be wonderful! Make sure we use the words "shared snack" as there are some children who do not celebrate birthdays.  

Wait. What? My kid can't call it his "Birthday"? "Shared Snack?"

As I write this, I'm still trying to wrap my head around something which goes against everything I've ever known. Here are my thoughts:

I consider myself to be pretty politically correct. I usually err on the side of caution. I never talk about politics in any company. I teach my children to respect all people regardless of their race or religion, because I truly do. I like (for the most part) that my child goes to public school where he is exposed to cultures that are different than ours. That's the reality of our society.

I completely, 100% understand not celebrating religious holidays in class. And frankly, I tend to agree with this. It is public school. I understand not celebrating Halloween because of the whole "demon" thing. I participated (with maybe a slight an eye-roll) in the "Dress Up As Your Favorite Storybook Character" parade held on October 31. I have no problem with him making snowflake and snowman crafts in the winter instead of Santa Claus and Christmas trees. I totally get it. Public school is not a place to be imposing religious or cultural beliefs on others.

But I have to draw the line at birthdays. It's not a religious belief TO celebrate birthdays. It's a religious belief NOT to celebrate them. Therefore, I think that another person's religious belief is being imposed on my son and his classmates by glossing over the fact that these donuts are for a birthday. I'm not suggesting that NOT celebrating birthdays is right or wrong. I'm just saying that OUR family does. And so to the vast majority of families I know.

HE'S 8! He gets one big day a year. Everyone has a birthday. Nobody is excluded from being born.

I took it to Facebook (of course) and my friend told me that when her mom taught school they had to be sensitive to a particular religion that she named - which I'm not even going to write here because that's not the point. And there is probably more than one culture or faith that doesn't celebrate.

And part of me is on the fence about this. We all have the right to believe what we want. But I feel that if anyone is opposed to celebrating a non-religious occasion that is commonplace in our society, their child should respectfully decline to participate, not keep an entire class from celebrating what the donuts are REALLY for. Did I happen to mention it's widely celebrated and non-religious?

Several of my friends mentioned that they remember children of one particular faith having to leave the classroom whenever there was a celebration. I hurt for any child that is excluded from anything for ANY reason. I hate the thought of any child being left out. But that isn't my decision, it's the decision of their parents.

I don't like that my kid has to put on a facade and pretend that it's just a coincidence that he's bringing in sprinkle donuts on Sept. 10 which just happens to be the day he was born? Fancy that.

And yes, I'm splitting hairs here, but is "faking it" really what we want to be teaching our kids. "OK, Ryan we know that these are really your Birthday Donuts, but we're just going to call them 'shared snacks'." Wink, wink.

I also feel bad for his teacher. Yes, she could have just told me "no." It has to be awkward to explain this to parents. She was very professional about it and for this reason I agreed and did not give her a hard time. I'm sure you can imagine how much I wanted to deliver a snarky comeback. I also understand that not saying "Happy Birthday" makes it easier for her to coordinate her whole class and I think she completely deserves that.

My guess is that there IS a particular child in his class that this applies to as I've never encountered it in his last 2 years of public school or at the daycare where the little kids go. I don't think this is a school district policy.

So on Friday, my kid will be toting in his "shared snack." I'm guessing there will be no singing either. And I feel bad for him.

What do you think?

***I'm leaving comments open, but I'll delete anything I think is too intense. Please be gentle and feel free to tell me if I'm totally out of line, just be nice about it.***


  1. honestly i think it's a load of b******t! I have never ever heard of this. EVER. I mean I know that there are some religions that do not celebrate birthdays (still doesn't make any sense to me) but like you said it is not even religious or anything.
    I am surprised you didn't say anything to the teacher because really, what are you teaching your kid? to lie? to pretend its' not his birthday?

    What is this world coming to? We have to cater to EVERYTHING for EVERYONE. nope, sorry, I wouldnt have been as "nice" as you, I would have probably raised hell.

  2. Wow! My son is going to be 22 in a few months, and until 6th grade was in a public school. I must say I have never heard of not being able to celebrate birthdays in class! I even remember sending a little something special to his favorite teacher on HER birthday! The only reason that I could even come up with in my very open minded brain is that there may be children who cannot afford to bring in snacks for the class on their special day. In which case...they would probably love the chance to share Ryans with him. Im with you on this one!
    PS: I just love your blogs, and have thanked my niece more than once for turning me onto it! Very entertaining!

  3. Oh my goodness. I was in 5th grade when my school decided to have a "Harvest Moon" celebration, instead of a Halloween parade. And it was also 5th grade when we stopped celebrating ONLY Christmas, and started celebrating other religions as well. But this? I feel that this is going a tad too far. I'm currently an Early Childhood Education major, so I can speak with *some* authority on this, but I have honestly never heard of that and I think that that is entirely unfair. I'm going to bring it up to my "Culturally Responsive Education" class and see what they think.

  4. I definitely support Winter celebrations, rather than Christmas...and with my kids at Jewish schools, we don't do Halloween or Valentine's day there - because although they aren't religious holidays, they have a religious origin. No prob with that (and less crap for me to buy and send to school!). But I agree - birthdays DO NOT have a religious origin. They a simply an anniversary of someone's birth. And you hit it on the head - it's a religious decision NOT to celebrate them. I'm not one to raise issues at school, but what does the administration say?

    -Shana (for some reason, I can't sign into my Google account to post)

  5. My old boss used to be that particular religion. We weren't able to talk about Christmas or any holiday for that matter (I mean, we could, but he always gave us a really hard time)...I thought that was mightily unfair, considering I was respectful of his religious choices. I wasn't asking him to sing Christmas carols or making a stocking. I was doing it for me. And I feel like that's the same way it should be for the kids in the classroom. Religion should stay out of it period, and that includes the religions who don't celebrate holidays and birthdays. I don't think you're out of line at all, and your anger is totally justified.

  6. Why is America so touchy about everything? I don't understand why it is so wrong to celebrate birthdays or any holiday for that matter! Everyone has the choice to participate...and as long as you are not imposing your views or beliefs on someone then it shouldn't be a problem. We can't help it if another family chose a different belief system for their children. So you are going to tell me b/c of one person we all have to change and be sympathetic to this child while the others suffer and don't get to celebrate birthdays? Ridiculous. I'm over everything having to be "politically correct." I'm respectful of others and their different beliefs then why can't the same be done for me? I grew up with kids that were this particular religion, and their parents never NEVER made us not celebrate birthdays or holidays. They were respectful, and we were respectful of them. Whoa that got long. Anyways, sorry that your son can't call it happy birthday donuts!

  7. My dad's side of the family are a religion which I will not mention - and they didn't celebrate birthdays - it's a good thing I don't have kids yet and that I'm not in school because I celebrate my birthday month. How uncomfortable would that make some? =)

  8. I sent you a lengthy note in a private FB message.

  9. We as adults have been exposed to these imposed
    rules for some time now...we cross at the light...don't walk on the grass...We are PCing
    all over town but, to rob a child of feeling
    special for 5 minutes...straw breaking camels

  10. I went to school with a child of that particular faith and while she did not participate in celebrations, the rest of us were allowed to. I don't know how she felt about that--it all just seemed to matter of fact at that age and everyone just accepted it, including her. I agree about being sensitive to people's beliefs, but I also think we've gone too far in the name of political correctness. It's too much to not allow a little 8 year old boy to celebrate his bid day. Birthdays won't be a big deal forever--why can't we just let our kids have this time in their lives to make a big deal out of it?

  11. My older twins had 2 children of that faith at one of their schools. They had to leave the room during all celebrations. It made me sad for them. However, taking the joy of a birthday (or other celebration) away from children rather than teaching all the kids tolerance is a mistake. I think that's something we should all learn to appreciate. My little guys know a lot more about Kwanzaa and Hanukkah that I ever will, and I'm happy about it. It's the right thing to do. (I still have them beat on Festivus knowledge;))

    On another note, my younger boys aren't allowed to bring in any treats to the daycare. First is was only store-bought, now it's nothing. It really bothers me. We're a little out of control with the allergy stuff too-but that's another post:)

  12. Make sure he wears a shirt that reads, "It's My Birthday!" This is just ridiculous!!

  13. I stand by my original comment yesterday....Ree-dic!!

  14. As a teacher, I know that it is becoming a more commonplace "unwritten policy" not to celebrate birthdays in the public schools, because it could result in some students being excluded...they have to leave the classroom if a birthday is celebrated, and that's often not logistically possible to accommodate. I can see both sides of the issue, honestly. Because of the teacher's request, I'd honor what she asked, and let it go at that.

  15. That is just really really weird. I don't know what I think about this yet. I am going to 'chew on it' for a while.

  16. All 3 of my kids have birthdays that fall outside of the school calendar (1 spring break and 2 summer), should I insist that all children have to call it a "special day" because that is what my kids have to do? Ridiculous.

    Renaming something doesn't diminish the spirit in which it is intended. For what it's worth, your son will know the donuts are for his birthday and so will his classmates. They won't even notice that it's called a shared snack. The labels are for the grown ups.

  17. I agree with what most people said. I understand not celebrating each religious holiday, but a birthday is not a religious holiday.

    I would be very interested to see someone who does not celebrate birthdays weigh in. I find often times that policies are made without even consulting the people they affect or protect. It's one extremist of the belief that makes all the noise and causes the issues.

  18. Now I want to email my kid's preschool and find out if they follow the same idea.

    This is just ridiculous to me. It feels like we're taking "political correctness" way too far. I wasn't even aware there was a religion that didn't celebrate birthdays. Just because a kid doesn't celebrate birthdays, doesn't mean yours can't. Right? Ugh. I don't feel like I can leave a clear comment so I'll just stop now.

  19. I was just talking to my mother about this, and we realized it's been a "thing" in this area for about 25 yrs now...which would explain why it no longer feels like a big deal to me. It's just a fact of life.

  20. Calling it a birthday treat would basically force the child in his class not to participate while everyone else does. Why would you want to exclude and possibly upset another child over what you call the treat? Do you think your son really cares what you call the donuts ("birthday treat" or "shared snack")? If he's anything like my kid, he just wants to eat them!

  21. I think it's sad where America has gone so crazy about being PC that even birthday's are now a touch subject. It's the one celebration kids get that is just about them and now they don't even get that. Sad.

  22. What's his room number? Donut's mom and I are going to send a clown over to sing happy birthday and make everyone balloon animals.

  23. I love the idea of sending him to school in a shirt that says "it's my Birthday". Your still calling it a shared snack! Oh...I can't do that either as most of our kids have to wear a uniform!!!

  24. My daughters have both had kids in their classes who don't celebrate birthdays or religious holidays, but usually no one makes too big a deal out of it. I've not had a teacher say that we can't send a birthday snack (as a birthday snack) yet, and I do think that's taking a little too far. Like you said, celebrating a birthday isn't part of some religion! I do agree that the religious holidays shouldn't be celebrated in public schools, but I'm fine with them teaching the history behind various religious holidays.

    I hope your son is able to enjoy the "shared snack!"

  25. Awww, your poor son. I feel so bad for him! I think it's a load of crap. that is all.

  26. This is a tough one. For the most part I do agree with all the comments already left but I think that perhaps the teacher is not so much trying to be PC but trying to make sure that the kid(s) who don't celebrate birthdays are able to partake in the snack instead of having to leave the room. I am sitting here feeling sorry for kids that can't have a doughnut simply because they are called birthday doughnuts. Maybe that is how the teacher feels.

  27. This breaks my heart. Because my son's school actually had a chapter last year on respecting all different kinds of cultures and beliefs (religious and not), I have ignored the memo and will not be calling a Christmas Tree a "Festive Tree." If parents want to raise their children in a world devoid of diverse traditions, Planet Earth is not for them.

  28. Well, I Googled it because I was burning with curiosity, and now I've furthered my religious education a little.

    Like you, I tend to be very PC and I don't like to discuss politics or religion unless I'm with close friends or family. I actually hold strong political views and I take my Christian faith very seriously, but I'm just not comfortable with that kind of debate. Live and let live, within reason, says I. But along those lines, I completely agree with you that preventing all the children in a class from celebrating their birthdays is an inverse of the freedom of religion constitutional mandate in our country. As you said, this essentially forces all the students to adhere to the one religion. I am a strong believer of learning about and respecting diverse beliefs, but this essentially forces everyone to adhere to one belief.

    I love our nation's constitution (for the most part) because I think it's what has kept our country relatively stable and ticking along democratically for a couple hundred years. So I fully support freedom of religion. But at some point, I wonder if we've gone too far in the PC direction and if we're slowly leeching the joy out of our public lives. Sure, we can hold joyful private celebrations to celebrate the particular holidays we enjoy, but at some point, can't we have a little singing in school? Can't we enjoy a birthday donut? Would that be so bad?

    Okay, I'm getting off my high horse now, and I'm still not quite sure how I feel about this one. You certainly sparked an interesting conversation. I don't think I've commented on your blog before, but I had to weigh in. Thanks for an interesting post!

  29. I bring in cupcakes every year for my daughter's birthday and I have never once had them tell me I couldn't mention the word birthday. I think at some point a lot of this stuff gets out of hand.

  30. My son's elementary school was the same way. I hated it. I agree with Jessica above, a lot of this gets out of hand. It's a birthday, not a religious holiday.

    At least your son's school is letting you bring in donuts. We aren't even allowed to do that. We can bring in veggie trays or fruit as the only edible treat. Otherwise we can come in to read a story to the class or bring in pencils for everyone. Now really, how lame is that??

    Okay, totally off topic there. I think it's ridiculous!

  31. This is the first time I've ever heard of this! I'm open to all backgrounds and beliefs, but I truly thought birthdays were universal! At least if this comes up now I'll be prepared.

  32. Say what?!?!? Ridiculous. Incredulous. Absolutely absurd!

  33. I think its a big load of crap! Holiday's I understand as schools have to be sensitive to all religions. But Birthday's? I just think that takes it all a bit too far!

  34. I agree with everything you said here and you did it in such a diplomatic and P.C. way. I don't get it at all either. It's the day he was BORN for God sakes!!! Thing have gotten out of hand in this regard.

    My son doesn't get to bring anything on his birthday at all this year (same age as your son). They don't celebrate at all after 1st grade. (also public school). I guess they figure that's just easier...

    I'm sorry you're having to deal with this...

  35. I can understand the dilemma, but "shared snack" is kinda lame.

    Our neighbors are Witnesses (and some of the coolest people I know) and while they do not celebrate, per se, they do acknowledge birthdays. And even mark the day with a special event or meal. I guess every family has different perspectives on this, but I don't see the harm in letting a young child acknowledge his birthday in a school setting. I mean it's not like you're asking for a full-on party with presents, balloons, and clowns.

  36. I'm obviously late to the conversation, but I think you said it best when you said people choose to opt out of birthdays due to religion. You're not imposing your religious beliefs on someone else, they're imposing theirs on you. I couldn't agree more with this post. Hopefully some changes are made and it's back to birthdays.

  37. I had no idea. Personally, I think that is completely ridiculous.

  38. I'm a politically correct kind of girl. I can't help it. I'm a liberal raised in Los Angeles with former hippy parents all of whom are in the entertainment industry. Everyone I know was this way. I don't want to make anyone feel bad, ever.


    This is foolish. I believe in Halloween, I believe in Holiday parades, I believe in St. Patty's day, I want to sing Deck the Halls AND Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel!

    But this is about a birthday. And you're right. It's not religious. But NOT celebrating it IS religious. Happy Shared Snack Day, Ryan.

    I'm going out and buying donuts for my kids class, just on principle. :)

    Dunkin donuts here I come...

    Lots of yummy love,
    Alex aka Ma What's For Dinner

  39. How frustrating. We haven't dealt with that yet, not even when I was up North teaching in politically correct schools.

    I did grow up with a friend who was of that faith- she was not allowed to go to my parties or to celebrate hers.

    I get that part of it... but it still seems a little extreme.

  40. Well I know about this first hand, since my dads side of the family is in a religion of this kind. They dont celebrate birthdays, but they do celebrate anniversaries. Which is beyond me, cause how can you not celebrate your own childs bday, but celebrate you marring some guy (but this is a topic for another day)! Just like they would stay sitting down while we recited the national anthem, they would just not participate in the birthday. I think it was wrong of her to ask you.

  41. Wow! I think it sucks to be honest - for your son and the teacher who has to make nice, nice to not offend or upset anyone.

    Things are getting out of hand with this religious stuff. I agree with you. It's not fair to your son. A birthday is a non-religious celebration.

    My cousin, same religion you're talking about, hated not being able to celebrate his birthday. During school, he would not attend or leave the room whenever it meant the class was doing that was against what he believed. It was his parent's decision and he was use to it. He didn't know any better.


  42. I watch 2 little boys in my daycare who happen to not celebrate anything. BUT however I DO still have birthday celebrations, have a christmas party, easter fun, and we do a halloween party. I just pick a day that they will not be coming to do it. I agree with you 100%, You don't ask anyone to change what they believe in for your benefit so why should you have to change what you believe in for anyone else! And the boys don't mind not celebrating b/c they are used to it. I think your son should have been able to have a happy birthday not a happy share a snack day!

  43. Growing up I had a girl in my classes who didn't celebrate birthdays, stand for the national anthem, recognize holidays.

    But she stayed in the classroom during our birthday celebrations.

    Know why?

    Cause she was born.
    She still had a Birth Day. she just didn't get presents for it.


    Seems simple.

  44. most Asian cultures only celebrate a child's 1st month and 1 year birthday because once the kid crosses over the huge health milestone. each subsequent year there is no celebration. everyone born within the lunar calendar year all turns a year older on the New Year. It's group mentality instead of an individual mentality that's all. it resignates throughout the culture.

    we choose to celebrate our kids birthday each year, but that is the customary of other cultures.

  45. I've never heard of that. It's silly.