Ellington turned four this past Wednesday in the middle of the 2020 Coronavirus quarantine. Particularly because this has been a particularly tough period for our family (like many families!), I wasn’t sure what to expect from a birthday during the quarantine. But it honestly turned out wonderful.
Ellington is our sweet, sensitive, outgoing, inquisitive, silly little guy. He has been most affected of our two toddlers during this quarantine. Both by my being sick for so long and all the life changes while living in quarantine. I learned an important lesson from his birthday. And I am constantly reminding myself to apply to all areas of our life right now. Nothing is going to be as we expected right now. But instead of being disappointed, I have to focus on the joy I can find in the blessings we do have.
What Did I Think His Birthday Should Look Like?
I remember the first time my husband and I spoke about Ellington’s fourth birthday, I broke down. I was still quite sick at this point and it felt too disappointing to think about on top of everything he was already going through. Not able to have his grandparents or any friends around. Not able to go somewhere fun and exciting. But then I realized I had to change my frame of mind.
At first we were thinking of doing a big Zoom call with all of our family and friends, asking friends to drive by with signs and music and having a parade of neighbors walk across the street. I talked to a friend who has a daughter just 10 days older than Ellington. She shared that they recently celebrated her husband’s birthday and they had a drive-by birthday surprise. She said their daughter was distressed and didn’t understand why the people they love in the cars could not hug them.
I separately had a conversation with a group of women from Mocha Moms Los Angeles. Many of us shared a similar experience that children younger than five are having more difficulty with Zoom and FaceTime during quarantine. It is overwhelming and frustrating for them to comprehend why they can’t actually see the people they are talking to on the screen. Some shared that their kids had meltdowns before, during or after distance learning Zoom sessions. I have heard great things about these large virtual celebrations for older kids. But we realized we needed to pivot.
What Really Mattered?
Lateef and I decided it was easiest, and Ellington was less prone to being disappointed, if we kept his birthday simple. The most important thing is for him to feel like this day is special and just for him – we just wanted him to feel surrounded by love. I realized that I didn’t have to lower my expectations, but instead focus on the things that we can do together, not the things we cannot do. We cannot live in the, what could have or would have been. We have to find joy and celebration even when we may not be celebrating in the way we thought we would.
Our focus was on filling the day with all things that Ellington loves to do and indulging all the things we usually do in moderation. The night before, Lateef put together his new race track and blew up balloons to fill the living room. We set up birthday decorations – monster truck themed (although some of our Oriental Trading decorations got lost in the mail). He woke up to half of his gifts in the living room staged and unwrapped. He went HAM!
Next we made a chocolate cake together. And made the kitchen a mess. We turned the TV on for a break and Ellington said – “It’s my birthday! I get to watch YouTube!” He knows today is HIS day.
To connect and with family and friends, we used an awesome free website called Padlet to capture all his birthday messages. First, you create a clipboard – ours is “Ellington’s 4th Birthday!!!!”. Then you ask family and friends to post birthday messages – they can leave videos, pictures and text messages. We were able to digest all the messages and love at our own pace. We actually did a few messages at a time throughout the day. It was absolutely perfect – we all loved it (and mommy may have shed a few happy tears).
We had a picnic lunch on the front lawn – McDonald’s, per his request. We saw a few neighbors walk by who wished him a happy birthday. Next, we had a small Zoom birthday candle song with just his grandparents and brother. It was not overwhelming and he could easily say everyone’s name on the screen. After his rest time, we brought out the rest of his gifts (he had to find a few hidden ones).
The day wasn’t perfect. We had a bit of too much birthday (anyone familiar with the excellent book The Berenstein Bears And Too Much Birthday) and a serious afternoon meltdown. He had his favorite meal of steak, broccoli, rice, black beans and salad for dinner. And another piece of chocolate cake.
And just like that, our Ellington is four years old.