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Birthdays in the time of COVID-19

Kid waving at person on computer screen

My birthday is Nov. 27. It’s 1981, if you really want to know.

Every year for my birthday growing up, my parents let me pick where we could go out to eat for dinner. I usually picked Oak Park Mall’s food court. It was the 80s and my parents had four kids, spaced two years apart. We rarely went out to eat. The mall and the food court was a favorite choice because that meant we could shop in the mall, too. We would come home for cake and ice cream and I would open presents from the family.

Oh, have times changed.

COVID-19 has changed everyone’s lives. We’re raising kids during a not-so-fun historical event.

Birthdays are a big deal. It’s a milestone. It’s a level up the ladder. Nine is so much different than 10. A 4-year-old preschooler seems like a million years away from a 5-year-old kindergartener. Oh, I know 6, 7, and 8 are a big deal too. The waterworks will fall with every exhale your baby takes over the candles.

My kids, Emma and Kate, have May birthdays. School is wrapping up and summer is right there. This year, Emma and Kate will be turning 14 and 11. The odds are looking like they will join the kids celebrating a quarantine birthday in their own home. No parties. No friends. Not even a hug from their grandparents.

Celebrating a birthday under quarantine, at any age, requires a little bit of creativity. You could go for simplicity of a dinner, cake and sanitized presents. But you could also create a little bit of magic and give your kids’ a birthday they’ll never forget. 

A birthday parade!

Call up the neighbors, friends and family. Ask them to decorate their cars with posters and balloons. Roll the windows down and blast music. Remember that colored shoe polish we used in high school to write on our cars? They can use that, too. Set a time for the car parade to make a drive-by in front of your house. Set up your own yard with decoration such as Card My Yard with a giant “happy birthday” greeting. It’s not quite like watching Patrick Mahomes during the Chiefs Super Bowl parade but it will definitely make a lasting impression on the year your kid received their own birthday parade.

Many neighborhoods are setting up their Facebook pages, asking for up-coming birthday kids so the community can get involved in making birthdays extra special though parades or leaving treats at the door.

Another option: Ask the neighborhood to walk their dogs for your birthday kiddo in a dog parade.

Bring school back in the best way possible.

Kids everywhere in the metro missed out on a big event this year. It’s one of my favorite memories in elementary school – field day (and I didn’t even like PE that much). Re-create field day at your home for your kid’s birthday. Make stations in your yard, driveway or garage. Set up three-legged races, potato sack races, minute-to-win-it activities and yard games like giant Jenga. Take advantage of the slip and slide with hose. Have neighbors sit across the street at safe distances and spectate. Many teachers, including PE teachers, can be an excellent source of ideas. 

A birthday with the men and women in blue.

No, not the Kansas City Royals. That’d be awesome if you can pull that off though. Can you give me that hook up? I am talking about your local city police department. In recent weeks, many city police departments and fire stations have offered to send a fleet of cars, motorcycles and fire trucks down your street with sirens and megaphones for the birthday kiddo. Oh, and don’t forget those red, white and blue flashing lights – would be even cooler at night.

Put the mailman to work.

Many kids don’t know the excitement of checking the mailbox. Or if they do, it’s not the same as it used to be. We are the home of Hallmark. Why not ask friends and family (and perhaps all of Facebook) to send an old-fashioned snail mail birthday card in a sweet card shower? Pile up the cards for the birthday kid to open on their birthday. I think we can all agree that ripping open an envelope is much more exciting than clicking a mouse button.

Getting techy.

We live in a world that is very good at communication. Use technology to bring people together. Zoom will allow multiple people to video chat with you and your birthday kiddo. Ask family, whether they’re down the street or across the world, to sing “Happy Birthday” together. Better yet, you could also ask your kid’s friends and family to use to make their own videos and email them to you to make one long “birthday wish” video to be re-played over and over. Get creative in asking who to Zoom. Local artists and chefs are going “live” with teaching their professional techniques. Why not ask and see if they will also do a live Zoom call for a birthday? is also a good site to pay celebrities to send a custom birthday wish to your kid. 

Take a hike – literally.

Just because we are quarantined doesn’t mean you can’t explore the great outdoors. Don’t know where to go other than a park – which is probably out of the question on a nice day with a lot of people. Here’s another idea: try Geocaching at Geocaching is when you use a cell phone with location services to hide and seek containers, called "geocaches" or "caches", at specific locations marked by coordinates. Caches are placed all over the world so get in the car and go! You can’t go wrong with sending your kid on a hide-and-seek adventure. Want to tame it down? Make your own scavenger hunt.

Every kid wants attention on them on their birthday. There isn’t anything wrong with throwing balloons all over the bedroom floor and decorating the house in more balloons, streamers, and homemade cards. Have your birthday kid pick the restaurant to be delivered for dinner. Ask a local bakery to make a special birthday cake or cookies. Drop off party favors at friend’s houses. There’s nothing wrong with the birthday kid choosing dinner and then opening gifts.

We can’t take our kids to the Oak Park Mall food court. I couldn’t tell you what my favorite meal was or which “restaurant” I ordered from. All I remember is being with my family somewhere different and the cake. It’s always about the cake.

However, you decide to celebrate, Happy 2020 birthday to you and your kiddos!

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Guest Writer