More than Enough: The Pressure of a Pandemic Birthday

My son had a birthday recently.

I’ve been constantly thinking about what we could do with him to help make his birthday special during a pandemic. I was feeling a lot of self-imposed pressure. I recognize that a lot of creative people have come up with unique ways to celebrate their loved one’s birthdays during the pandemic.

Birthday parades! Zoom parties! Fun outdoor activities! And more!

For my son, I knew a birthday parade wouldn’t be enjoyable. He is turning six and he would have a hard time with the fact that he could see his best pals but not actually get to play with them. I had a feeling that a birthday parade would just create angst for him. A Zoom party was an option but honestly, I spend enough time on Zoom for work – let alone on a Zoom call with various grandparents vying for their grandson’s attention on his birthday. Finally, it is suddenly much colder in our area so an outdoor activity was off the table too.

One day, as we drove home from school, I was talking to my son about his birthday in an effort to glean any ideas I could from him about how he wanted to spend his day. I was hoping he would give me ideas that would help make his day memorable.

This is how that conversation went:

Me: “SO, I’m guessing I know what you want to have for breakfast on your birthday.”

Him: “What?”

Me: “Pancakes and Sausage!” (His favorite, so this was an obvious choice to me).

Him: “Yes! How did you know?”

Me: “I just knew. And what do you think you want to do after breakfast?”

Him: “Mama, can I help you make my birthday cake?”

(Usually I make their cakes after they go to bed the night before their birthday and they wake up to their favorite cake on the dining room table. The fact that he wanted to be a part of the baking of the cake is so sweet. Yes he can help!)

Me: “Of course! That would be fun. Then what? Did you say before that you wanted to watch a movie on your birthday?”

Him: “Yup! ELF! And I want to have popcorn with special treats hidden inside the popcorn like chocolate and gummies!”

(When we make popcorn for the kids on special occasions I mix M&Ms or Reese’s Pieces in with the popcorn. Sometimes I hide gummy worms. This is apparently something that has made an impact and he wants special on his birthday. Done!)

Me: “Oh for sure! I can definitely do that. So you want to snuggle on the couch and be cozy while we eat a special treat and watch Elf?”

Him: “Yes!”

Me:” What do you want to have for dinner? We can make a special dinner at home or order something to pick up from a restaurant and eat at home.”

Him: “I want to get pizza! And I want to have an ADULT-sized pizza!”

(Haha! Whatever in the world made him think that he hasn’t had an adult sized pizza before . . . I have no idea. But you bet I ordered that kid the biggest pepperoni pizza I could find.)

Me: “We can get a big pepperoni pizza for dinner buddy. And do you just want to play with some of your new stuff that you will get for your birthday throughout the day?”

Him: “Yes! **SIGH** This is going to be the BEST. BIRTHDAY. EVER!”

This is when I melted. My eyes filled up with tears. I felt relief and also validation. We couldn’t rent out a local party room at the rec center for him and all his little friends. We wouldn’t make a trip to the children’s museum. We wouldn’t gather in our home with his friends for a celebration.

But, for him, we are enough.

A quiet day at home with his family, a movie, pizza, and treats is enough. And in his little head he felt like it would be the best birthday ever.

It was in this moment that I had to check myself.

The expectations I had put on myself and the planning of his birthday were not his expectations. They were mine, or they were expectations created in my head by social media posts or comparison to how others celebrated a COVID-19 birthday. I realized in that moment the stress and pressure I had put on myself was ridiculous.

They just want us. They just want to spend time with the people who love them most doing little things that feel special. If we do that, they will feel seen and celebrated. That’s it.

Well, and maybe also add an XXL pepperoni pizza.

How have you celebrate birthdays during a pandemic?

Linda, a Michigan native, moved to Iowa City in 2011. She is the Director of Women in Science and Engineering at the University of Iowa but enjoy summers off with her two children: Quinn (7) and Isaac (4). Linda has been married to Jacob for over ten years. Together, they enjoy cheering for the Nebraska Cornhuskers (shhhh!), going on adventures both big and small, and playing board games (they have over 100!). Linda enjoys reality television and can often be found watching a Bachelor franchise show while curled up in her “mom chair” with her favorite quilt. Linda is often told she has two volumes ON and OFF. No matter the volume she uses, Linda is an “old soul” with a love for baking, embroidery, and old movies.


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