Making the Best

Today Chloe turns 11. Now, both her and Julianna have had to celebrate their birthdays during the Great Quarantine of 2020.

I find myself feeling a bit conflicted about how to handle the emotional ups and downs both girls have felt about their birthdays happening during this time.

For Julianna’s birthday, we asked a bunch of her friends and family to send videos wishing her a happy birthday that we edited together into a movie to surprise her; to give her the chance to interact in some small way with people who aren’t her boring parents and sister.

For Chloe’s birthday, we put together a movie comprised of over 270 photos and over 20 home movie clips documenting her entire life. They both got birthday presents from us and presents from other people. We made cake and in both cases, allowed each girl to set the menu for the day. We’ve heard stories and seen pictures of, and participated in, drive-by birthday visits.

We are all doing the best that we can and yet, it doesn’t feel like its enough. All I want, which I am assuming is what any parent wants, is for my children to be happy. The challenge is in how I perceive the definition of happy vs how they do.

The night of Julianna’s birthday, she got a little sad. She had been a trooper all day and seemed to really enjoy the various things we were able to do for her and together. She said that she was sad because her birthday is her special day and she really wishes that she had had the opportunity to spend time with her friends and her family. Her sadness made me realize my own in that moment.

And this is where my conflict comes in to play. I keep reminding myself that we have a nice house, a yard to play in when the weather is nice, food, toilet paper, and jobs that allow my wife and me to work from home and continue to earn our livings. We are safe and we are healthy. Many people are not as fortunate as we are.

So what’s the big deal with having to wait a month or 6 to have a belated birthday party?

Just the other day, we were doing a birthday drive-by for a camp friend of Julianna’s in a neighboring town. After we left there, we decided to drop in at 2 other houses to visit other friends from the driveway. This got Chloe thinking about how she is going to be missing out on contact with people on her birthday too. She suggested that maybe we could invite a few friends over and they could just stay outside and go for a bike ride together and maintain a 6’ distance. She promised they’d stay away from each other. We explained that it just can’t happen that way right now.

I’m thinking, “what’s the big deal?”

I could hear her getting upset as we were discussing it and trying to not just say, “deal with it, there are people dealing with much bigger problems; you just need to be patient.”

I watch and read the news every day. I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on what’s going on at home and around the world. My perspective is formed by the information and experience I have. The kids follow the same model but have different inputs and different capacities to process all that information. I want them to just be kids.

At home, both Chloe and Julianna are treated like pretty important people every day of their lives, probably like your kids are treated in your homes. Out in the world, they’re just two of the many and their birthdays are days to be celebrated as pretty important to everyone around you. It feels a little bit of extra good on that day when you’re that age and they don’t get to have that this time.

So that’s a big deal for them and that makes it a big deal for me. I can’t know for sure how I’d have felt when, on my 11th birthday, if I was told that I couldn’t see my friends or have a party or do whatever I wanted. I’d be willing to bet I’d have been disappointed.

I believe our kids understand the seriousness of COVID-19 and I believe they understand, even if they don’t want to, why we have to do things the way we’re doing them, for now. Even in the best circumstances, this is a difficult time for everyone. I know we are all doing the best we can to take these lemons and make lemonade, even if the supermarket never has any sugar in stock.

I know that today isn’t going to go exactly the way we all wanted it to go. Tomorrow and the next day won’t be ideal either. Some day soon though, things will get back to the normal we all crave.

Being disappointed that things aren’t exactly how we’d like, even for things that seem relatively trivial in the grand scheme of things like an 11 year old’s birthday, is not mutually exclusive with feeling incredibly lucky to be able to be safe, relatively happy, and healthy given the circumstances. I have the capacity to do and be both.

I am sorry that these circumstances have made it so both Julianna and Chloe don’t get to have the perfect birthday that I know any parent would want for their kids in the same way that people who have had to postpone a wedding, a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, a graduation party, or anything else. I’m sorry that people who had their hearts and minds set on anything important to them have had to postpone.

Yes, Our health is the most important thing but the presence of a most important thing doesn’t mean that there aren’t other things that are also important. Yes, maybe they are smaller and likely more trivial. At the beginning of this whole phase of life, I think I was brushing off the latter because I was afraid of the self-judgement associated with even including those “less important” things in the conversation. But why?

Here’s what I know: we’re going to give Chloe the best birthday we can today (I suspect with some help from some great friends and family) and then continue the celebration some time in the future when things settle down and get back to normal. She knows this. It will just require a bit of patience and bit of emotional management. After all, she’s only 11 and I’m only 42.

She deserves to be celebrated. We all do.

I wish it could be different today. We all do.

She makes the best of her day. We all do.

As I write this, I can hear Julianna, Chloe, and my wife laughing in the other room. I don’t know what they are talking about or what’s so funny. It doesn’t matter. It is the best sound I’ve heard in a long while.

Here’s to a year, for as many of us as possible, filled with lots of laughter, and big smiles, and hugs…lots of hugs.

Happy Birthday Chloe.