Estimated read time : 8 minutes
Zaara’s birthday was approaching fast. Even as early as January this year, she had started making plans with her best friend, Naomi. A few months ago, she gave her mom the choice between a Harry Potter cake and a unicorn one. Mother and daughter had detailed discussions about venues, party games and take-home presents. They debated between having a puppet show or bringing in an artist who would paint beautiful pictures on their hands, according to their choice. But alas! All their well-laid plans were knocked out by the pandemic!
A month ago, Zaara started getting anxious about her birthday and began questioning “What will happen to my birthday in June, Ma? (that’s what she calls me, her grandmother) “Will, I ever have a birthday?” I realized that as we practice social distancing during COVID-19, children are dealing with major disappointments over cancelled summer plans, sleepovers, fun-filled school activities, bonding with teachers and friends and much more. The absence of a birthday party would be the last straw in an already unreal world! Our little ones need a celebration when they hit a milestone. Such occasions also give families an opportunity to break the monotony of “stay at home” times where days are merging into nights and every day seems like a weekday. Telling children, they can’t celebrate because of a virus does not make much sense to them. Neither can we announce that their birthday is postponed indefinitely. These days, when we keep hearing negative news all the time, a child’s birthday is something to treasure – a moment of brightness to cherish, in the midst of a pandemic causing fear and uncertainty in the world.
I realized that in our current world of isolation, we can still celebrate children’s birthdays, in slightly different but wonderful ways. Of course, the door-bell won’t keep ringing, and guests won’t keep pouring into the house. Neither can we have a theme party in any favourite party zone? But we could celebrate Zaara’s birthday and infuse something joyful in our own sweet and simple way.
Zaara’s birthday was on the 7th of June – a Sunday, which is a day of total lockdown in Bangalore. So, with her consent, we rescheduled her birthday a day earlier on a Saturday and decided to have a family celebration!
A week in advance, we allowed Zaara to order presents online for herself from her family. What she wanted from us, her grandparents was “The Folk of the Faraway Tree,” a book by Enid Blyton. She also wanted two sleep masks – one a cute panda, and the other in a sweet puppy shape. Her great grandmother got her a soap and bubble making set. Zaara’s mom’s gift was the latest Harry Potter book and luggage tag, a pair of shoes, a ‘Frozen’ towel and a glitter pouch. Her father got her a watch and his parents got her shoes. Zaara had a lot of fun because not a day went by without yet another present arriving for her. It was a pre-birthday magical week! She and Ma, wrapped up all the gifts in pretty glitzy paper.
Zaara and her Ma decided, that it was going to be a special day for her ‘aunties’ too – Shanti, Leela and Bhagya, who help with the housework and the cooking. So, they bought them dainty treats which they could take home and enjoy with their children.
Zaara decided that she wanted a vanilla cake, with buttercream frosting to be decorated with sprinkles. She and Ma assembled all the ingredients together and buttered and floured the cake tins. Zaara was the chief baker and they had tremendous fun beating, folding and icing the cake. Zaara proclaimed that the best part was licking the cake bowl which she did with great gusto. The chocolate-chip cookies also came out really well, although the kitchen looked like a battleground after all the excitement was over and Ma had her work cut out just brooming and mopping the place!
Breakfast in bed – The morning of Zaara’s birthday arrived, bright and sunny. Ma decided to make the day a little different, by changing around a few things to make the birthday girl feel special. So, Zaara got breakfast in bed, to her delight. The pretty tray was loaded with all her favourite things – Maggi noodles (which is allowed only as a treat for her), peanut butter, and mashed potatoes with heaps of butter. This made Zaara feel special and loved, and hopefully made this unusual timeless challenging.
‘Yes’ day – Her birthday day was an ‘yes’ day for Zaara within reason, of course! She was a princess for the day and could ask for anything, keeping social distancing in mind.
Spa session – What Zaara also asked for was a spa session and we did just that! Who doesn’t like a wee bit of pampering? So, that morning we put together our own make-believe salon where I gave her a pedicure and a gentle massage and painted her nails a vivid pink while listening to soft music. Zaara was over the moon!
Music moves – The other thing which Zaara wanted to do, was to dance to all her favourite tunes. This was great since it enabled us to sneak in a little exercise in a day filled with cake and sweet eats!
Special cards – Zaara asked to make cards for all the people she loved, and it was great to see her dabble in paint and decorate with sequins and glitter pens!
The party – The party itself was a grand success, especially because we allowed Zaara to invite her friend, Naomi whom she last saw almost three months ago! Everyone had a fabulous time cutting the cake, singing the birthday song and feasting on the home-made delicacies. It was sheer bliss to see Zaara’s face light up with undiluted joy!
When the celebrations were over, and Zaara had been tucked up in bed, I realized that we could find solace and joy in simple things and just have to be together as a family to be happy. Social distancing has thrown a wrench in our daily lives, but not all is lost. We didn’t have the grand soiree we had thought of but had achieved something so much better. I know that Zaara will remember this birthday for years to come as a very special day.
Also read: Corona, Zaara, And Me
It is our thoughts that count right now – moments that are ‘stand alone.’ Of course, we have to prioritize safety at the moment, but in spite of social distancing, kids can still have birthdays. It is difficult to have fantastic celebrations amidst a global pandemic, but if we go in with a positive attitude, we can make some wonderful memories in this unusual time. Birthdays release tiny bubbles of hope that bring some level of normalcy in the unprecedented times we live in. But for now, I am so thankful that Zaara has reached a milestone and that we, her family, were with her to celebrate it! I am hopeful that someday soon we will be back to having playdates, walks in the moonlight and parties in gorgeous places!