Brioni, 3yo, David, Aisha, 5yo, + Calista, 22 months old, February 2010
On hot afternoons, everyone enjoys an ice-block. Our current favourites are the yoghurt ones that I make from pouring regular yoghurt into the moulds.

David + Aisha, 5yo, February 2010
David has successfully maintained a special bond with Aisha over the past year.

Although Aisha was born on the 7th of February, we’ve delayed Aisha’s official fifth birthday because we’ve given her the achievable goal of reading a book (of her choice) to David in order to “become” five. At this point, she’s happy to read through books with me, but she hasn’t been willing to bring one to David, so we’re just waiting for her to take the initiative.

Until then, she remains “four-years-old”.

The girls’ idea of a birthday is pretty simple: balloons and a cake. We don’t invite other kids around (they may bring a gift — eek!), and I try to keep the cake a little bit healthy. We go overboard with the balloons, however, so I’ve stockpiled some for when Aisha is ready to take the next step.

We’ve still managed to get away without giving presents for a birthday, and the girls don’t expect anything like that. We’ll try to continue the simplicity of this practice as long as possible, and then perhaps we’ll switch to making special memories for each birthday, rather than offering presents.

I still find it hard when I want to reward the girls for outstanding achievements. As a gift-giver, my first impulse is to present them with a gift — perhaps a trinket or some special food. I’m afraid that rewarding with “bad” food will create a set of baggage that could lead to comfort eating in the future. And our reluctance to introduce personal toys means that it’s impossible to give one item to a girl for their use only.

We’ve long maintained that all the toys are the girls’. Their only individual possessions are their special blankets. By default, Aisha has some items that are not age-appropriate for the younger girls, but apart from that, everything is common property.

We teach the girls to practice sharing in a number of creative ways, and it’s been a good strategy. They’re certainly learning the art of negotiation (or sleight of hand). The conflicts over who’s playing with what are few, and I don’t get involved, sending the children away to sort it out themselves. “If I have to come and sort it out, I’ll just take it away,” I say.

I’m always seeking ideas. What creative ways have you come up with for celebrating birthdays or milestones without adding to the stuff in your house?