My daughter quietly turned 6 this week in what was her second pandemic birthday.
Last year, there were tears—lots of tears. Why couldn’t her friends sing “Happy Birthday” loudly and clap while she blew out the candles? Why couldn’t her cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents come and give their gifts in person? Why couldn’t she have a freeze dance party to all of her favorite songs?
Why, why and more whys. Why is coronavirus still here? When will it go away? Before my birthday, or after my birthday? Can we still do a Peppa Pig-themed party?
I didn’t have many good answers to her questions. Honestly, I still don’t.
For this year’s birthday, one year later, she had moved to the acceptance phase of grieving the death of the birthday party. There were no tears, no endless questions, and no planning for a Peppa Pig-themed party she wouldn’t actually be able to have. She knew her birthday was coming. She knew we would celebrate quietly at home wearing a sparkly blue dress she picked out. She knew there would be some sort of cake and other sweet treats involved.
My daughter had learned to accept, embrace and understand what it meant to celebrate in a quieter and perhaps more meaningful way. While she accepted it, I still struggled with the death of the birthday party and the continued lack of social interaction my kids, and so many kids, had no other choice but to accept. And I never thought I would say this, but I miss the birthday party planning.
I miss the useless birthday favors and goodie bags. I miss overpaying for a cake with Peppa Pig’s face made out of icing. I miss cramming into a city location, where we could only ask kids to bring one parent because any more people in the room and it would be a fire hazard. I miss sorting through the bags of gifts she didn’t need and encouraging her to donate some. I don’t miss the balloon going up into the air as she dissolved into a pile of tears, and I don’t miss fighting with my husband over the fact that we ordered way too much pizza. I do miss taking way too many pics of and her friends, and never deleting the same 20 shots of her blowing out the cake.
For her sixth birthday party, she chose a Paw Patrol-themed party, which meant we had Chase, Robo, Skye and some other character party masks and party favors. Her grandparents were fully vaccinated and showed up with a decadent chocolate cake with vanilla icing and a rainbow on top. They brought with them a number of gifts, including ones for her older brother too so he didn’t feel left out. We made homemade cards, FaceTimed family members, had several special meals of sushi (and yes, she discovered her love of salmon rolls in the pandemic!) and pizza (also including Five Guys milkshakes, which she wasn’t willing to share with Mom.) She received birthday video and text messages. It became a birthday long weekend, and she ended up with three outfit changes and two cakes.
In the quietness of her turning six, I was reminded again that her favorite color is still sky blue. That she still loves Paw Patrol, and adores sparkly dresses. She loves rainbows and unicorns, and prefers chocolate cake over vanilla. She loves homemade cards and drawings, and is still obsessed with all things Barbie. In the quietness of her turning six, I was reminded of all ways in which my daughter was becoming her own person—most of which I might have missed while making birthday invites, stuffing goodie bags, and running to the grocery store the morning of her birthday in a panic that I didn’t have enough juice boxes.
Lucky for her, the pandemic parenting guilt kicked in. My family and I all went in on the Barbie Dream House. It’s so large that I might have to move out of our home now. I hope she still adores it a month from now as I sit on the very corner of the couch next to the slide digging into my knee.
And I hope that years from now, she will remember all of this. I hope it’s the quiet birthday that she and I never forget.
Mita Mallick is the Head of Inclusion, Equity and Impact at Carta and loves living in Jersey City with her husband and two young kiddos.