Friday, February 1, 2013

Babylon Box: How to Catch Up on 2 Years!

When our first son entered the MTC, I remember thinking about (OK...crying about) all of the things he would be missing out on over the next 2 years. That made me sad...and I remember thinking to myself, "If I am feeling sad about this, imagine how sad HE must be feeling about it." I thought how great it would be if he could somehow catch up on everything when he got home. What if there was some way to fill in that 2 year gap for him. And so the Babylon Box was born.

The day our sons leave for their missions, we start collecting little parts of the world they left behind (thus, the name "Babylon".) We watch for things they would enjoy if they were at home. Things like...magazines and newspapers that have major news stories in them, DVDs of movies that come out, gift certificates to new restaurants that open. We pile everything in a big plastic bin that I tuck in the corner of my little office, keep adding to, and leave there until the day they arrive home. They are always SO excited to see what is in their Babylon Box--it is almost always the very first thing we do when we walk in the door from the airport after picking him up. It is so much fun watching our newly-returned missionary son go through every item one by one. Through the years, my younger boys have watched their older brothers open their Babylon Boxes, knowing they will have one when they serve, too. It has just added a little bit of fun to the coming home process and has become a Murphy family tradition that has lasted through 13 years and 7 missionary sons.

There are some things, of course, they are simply going to miss out on. Period. That's just the way it is. There is no way we can ever replace the experience of being at a sibling's wedding or the birth of a new nephew or niece. (It's been amazing to me how little they even care about--or remember--those big things they have missed. I think it's been much harder on me to not have them at things than it has been on them to not be there.) But there ARE little things we have found that have made the experience of "catching up" a little more fun and helped them feel a little less left out when they return home--when they start to really realize how MUCH has happened since they've been gone.

Here are a few ideas of things we put in our boys' Babylon Boxes. You will, of course, want to add to (or subtract from) this list for your own child. Just ask yourself: what would he/she be missing the most right now? What will he/she want to see or know about or have once they come home? That's what I've done...just try to think of things he would be excited to have or see when he gets home. Each Babylon Box has been uniquely special for each of our children but there have been a few things I have done for them all. Here's a list to get you started:

1. Newspapers and Magazines: One of my boys loved video game magazines, several of them loved sports magazines, one is an artist and loved art magazines. I collected the type of magazine they liked--they really LOVED having those magazines when they got home. It was fun, for example, for my football-obsessed sons to read the football news they missed in Sports Illustrated. A lot more fun than having us just tell them the condensed version of 2 years of news. Also, there are several magazines that put out an issue at the end of the year that recaps that year (sometimes in pictures) and I love to include these, as well.

2. Christmas ornaments: We give all of our children a new Christmas ornament every year. The one for our missionary child--we write the year on, wrap it up, and put it in his Babylon Box.

3. DVDs and CDs: This is one of the things they love the very most. To tell you the truth, I have debated about just giving them an Itunes gift certificate since everything they could possibly want can be downloaded from Itunes nowadays. You could certainly do that and it would be great--especially for music. But for some reason I haven't been able to bring myself to NOT buy them the movies...watching them go through that huge stack of DVDs in their box is just so darn much fun! All my boys have really loved having them and now, even those who are married with kids of their own, still have all of the DVDs on their shelves. *Just a little hint here: if you decide to buy DVDs, try to buy them as they come out in the stores--it is so much less expensive to buy 1 or 2 a month than having to play catch up and buy 40 of them the month before he comes home! Also, if you aren't sure of all the movies that have come out since he has been gone, Google will help you. :)

4. Gift cards: I like to put a few gift cards in to places that have opened in our town since they have been gone. To make it look a little more substantial, I get a container from that store and wrap it up with the gift card inside. For example, Red Mango opened while one of my sons was serving in Ukraine so I bought a gift card there and asked for one of the little containers--put a little shredded paper in the bottom with the gift card on top, put it all in a cellophane bag and tied a cute ribbon around the top.

5. T-shirts and memorabilia: We like to buy a t-shirt at places we go--vacation spots, restaurants, concerts--and put it in their box. It's a little way for them to know that, even though they weren't with us during all those times, we were always thinking about them and wishing they were.

6. Belated birthday gifts: I think it's pretty tough to think of gifts for missionaries when they are serving...the list of things they need is so small and (let's be honest)so monotonous and boring: ties, shirts, shoes, ties, shirts, shoes. If you're lucky maybe they'll need a new sweater or a winter hat to just give some variety to your shopping list...but it is usually really hard for me to think of new and interesting--and useful--things to send them. So instead of buying a bunch of stuff they don't need for say--their birthdays--we have given our boys the option of having a little cash put in their Babylon Boxes (I still send them something small so they at least have one birthday gift to open..then maybe some inexpensive party supplies and a cake mix--something fun to make the day a little special.) We have found that they have LOVED having that little bit of cash when they got home and that it was a lot more meaningful to them then than it would have been if we had spent it on something they really didn't need on their mission. (**NOTE: Please make sure you send your son SOMETHING on his birthday, Christmas, holidays. As a mission president's wife, there was nothing more heartbreaking to me that a missionary who never got gifts from home. happens. Hard to believe, huh?)

As I am typing, I am looking at my son's Babylon Box sitting in the corner(he returns home in March!) I have only included a few things on this list that I can see from here. Just know there are unlimited possibilities! And don't stress too much. WHAT you put in the box doesn't really matter. You don't have to spend a lot of time or a lot of money to make this box something they will treasure. What has mattered to my boys--and what will matter to yours--is what the things in this box represent. This Babylon Box is a way of saying: I never stopped thinking about you during the 2 years you have been gone. You have been a part of our lives and our family even though you haven't been with us. Knowing that he has been in your heart during the past months and years will mean so much to him. As a matter of fact, THAT is what will be the most meaningful to him when he sees the things you have gathered together for him and when he realizes the time and thought that went into this collection of things you knew he would miss during the time he was away. One of the toughest things for a missionary when he leaves home is the fear of being (or feeling) forgotten. This Babylon Box has become our way of saying to our missionary sons: You weren't.

I'm not one to put a lot of work into things that aren't worth it--things that don't make a substantial impact in someone's life. There is a reason the Babylon Box tradition has endured all these years in our family: it is worth whatever time and energy it takes to put together. Remember, it does not need to be perfect. You do NOT have to have every single DVD in it from the 2 years your son was gone! Just do the best you can. Throw something in it now and then. You'll be surprised how quickly it fills up...and just how much it means to your child.


  1. I LOVE this idea so much!!!! We just dropped off 2 of our daughters at the MTC yesterday and I am going to start this. They will love it and so will I.

    I love your blog. Very helpful and comforting :)

  2. I couldn't agree more with Shelli

  3. I just found your blog from a link on Pinterest. I think this idea is fantastic. I'm going to call it the Canada Box since that is where we live and my son is serving in Mexico. My son left in Dec. 2013 so I am going to do some catching up! Instead of buying DVDs I am going to print off the cover of the movie put it in the box and then we can buy or rent it to watch when he gets back on itunes or maybe free on Netflix! He loves National Geographic so I am going to get him a subscription today!!
    Thank you so much for sharing your ideas!