A few days ago, our Red Eye crew was out in the South Central Projects where we mentor kids every Saturday. Yet, today was way more than just an average Saturday -- this was due to the fact that it was Juanito's Birthday! Juanito is one of the incredible kids that we get to hangout with, and today he turned five years old.
So before we went to the projects to meet him, the Red Eye crew made a quick stop at the store. We found some incredible Spiderman gear (his favorite), tons of new school supplies, a handheld computer dinosaur game and an overabundance of balloons.
When we arrived at Juanito's home, we were all so excited to surprise him that our cheeks hurt from smiling so big. However, to our surprise, as he started ripping through his presents, he wasn't that impressed by really anything we had bought him. He actually, kind of, just tossed each gift to the side. Yet, we still kept jumping around and smiling, hoping that maybe one of the gifts would be "The Perfect Gift." Yet, he just kept tossing each gift, one after another. And in that moment I had a flash back to one of my favorite birthdays. I actually couldn't think of one present I received. It had nothing to do with presents. It was about the family and friends that I got to spend it with.
There are countless stories of birthday after birthday or Christmas after Christmas when people spend hundreds of dollars on huge expensive gifts and then the children end up playing more with the cardboard box than the gift that came inside.
You see, for a child, the creativity is quite often found, not in the toy itself, but inside of a cardboard box. Because with a cardboard box, you and your friends can create anything... you can make it a pirate ship, a prison chamber, a castle, or even a dragon's belly. BUT most importantly, unknowingly you can create memories of a lifetime.
Yet, we didn't even have a huge cardboard box, so it was time we improvised. What we did have were a ton of little, cheap, wiffle balls. In all honesty, we completely forgot to buy him a bat, so we just ran outside and decided to transform these cheap, seemingly lame mini wiffle balls into a huge "California snowball fight." It became a glorious mayhem! Everyone was running around trying to duck and dodge the sting of these little plastic toys. That is when we saw Juanito really come alive and show his amazing smile. He didn't care how much time we put into thinking about all the Spiderman gear. He didn't care how much money we spent. All he cared about was that for a few hours he had friends that were there to laugh and play with him.
Our hope clearly was that Juanito had a fun time and that he'll remember the day for a long while. BUT... secretly I think that day meant even more to the Red Eye crew. While yes, it was nice to bring him some cool toys, Juanito gave us an even greater gift. It was the gift of pure joy; it didn't come in the form of some overpriced commercial toy, but rather through a smile that a price tag could never be placed.
At the end of the day we took one thing out of this. Whether we are celebrating a five-year-old's birthday in the middle of the projects or organizing a huge humanitarian event, "The Perfect Gift" can be found in the simplest of things... even inside of an empty cardboard box!