As we all adjust to life in lockdown, one big change many families have had to make is how they celebrate birthdays. It’s disappointing that in-person parties can’t happen right now, but birthdays during coronavirus have the opportunity to be even more memorable. All it takes is a little bit of creativity and planning.
Kimberly Neal of Catonsville was supposed to celebrate her 40th birthday on March 25 by flying to Italy with her husband. Instead of waking up early to catch a flight, however, she woke to a front yard decorated by neighbors with wine bottles, balloons and a huge “40 and Fine as Wine” sign.
Neal’s family planned a fun-filled day that included yoga at home and take out from her favorite restaurants. She even dressed up for dinner in a black cocktail dress with a tulle skirt, did her hair and makeup and wore a 40th tiara bedazzled in rhinestones.
“My husband grilled steaks, and he, my son, and I ate dinner using fine china and crystal. The entire day was amazing,” says Neal.
When Neal’s son turned eight a few weeks later, he chatted with friends and family on Zoom and happily rode his bike all day. “In these situations, you have to make lemonade from lemons,” she says.
Turning something disappointing into something amazing is what Colleen Watson did for her six-year-old son, Mason, who was going to have his birthday party in March at a local Ninja Warrior course.
Instead, the Potomac mom coordinated a birthday parade with more than 30 friends wishing him a happy birthday from bikes and cars decked out with balloons and streamers.
“At first, he was really sad because we couldn’t have his party, but then he was so happy with the amount of people that came by. All his classmates, family and friends. It was really special,” says Watson. “He especially loved when people threw out candy to him. He said it was the best birthday party ever.”
When Mason’s friend Ryan turned six on April 1, his mom, Erika Schor, came up with another inventive way to make her son’s birthday feel more personal.
“We asked all his classmates and teachers and family to send us a short video wishing him a happy birthday or singing a song,” explains Schor. “Then we made one long video of all the videos together and showed it to him the night of his birthday. He loved it.”
In Bel Air, a group of friends did something similar to celebrate Mia Salvatierra’s Sweet 16. They collected happy birthday messages and compiled them into one video for Mia to watch when she woke up. They also drove to her house, honking their horns and holding up signs.
“She was thrilled,” says her father, Ed. “I’m sure she will remember those gestures for a lifetime.”
But birthday drive-bys and video messages aren’t the only way to celebrate birthdays during quarantine. Now that we’re all proficient on Zoom, virtual parties are becoming a popular alternative.
A Zoom party is what Tiana Petersen of Chantilly is now planning instead of the pool party her son Matt originally wanted for his sixth birthday in May. Petersen says she plans to bake cupcakes, package them with sprinkles and frosting and deliver them in boxes on his friends’ doorsteps.
“Then we can have a Zoom meeting, and everyone can decorate their cupcakes together,” she says.
Even though parties have been downgraded to home celebrations, the main takeaway is that there are still so many ways to connect, says Martha Edwards, a mom from Towson. Edwards and her daughter, Maggie, recently put together a little gift for Maggie’s friend’s 15th birthday that included a roll of toilet paper.
“What do we all miss the most on our birthdays? We miss hanging out with our friends and family. I’ve seen so many people using Zoom and FaceTime for virtual happy hours, and now, virtual birthday parties,” Edwards says. “Everyone can still sing, talk and share well wishes. There are so many ways we can all be creative and make it work.”
A version of this story originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of Washington FAMILY magazine.