Our Stories: Bare essentials birthdays

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By Tia Lynn Ivey

I’ve never enjoyed the “Happy Birthday” song. Too many off-key voices straining for that one high note makes my ears wince. But this year, in the age of the coronavirus pandemic with less voices around to chime in, singing “Happy Birthday” feels almost sacred, like a holy rebellion.

It’s a small but powerful act, showing that even when the entire world grinds to a halt at the mercy of a new disease, we will still choose to celebrate life and all the milestones we reach while we live.

COVID-19 is robbing tens of thousands across the globe of their very lives, and robbing millions more of moments—the precious moments many of us often take for granted. 

As we socially separate to slow the spread of this virus, we are sacrificing family dinners, church services, playdates, weddings, graduations, baby showers, vacations, funerals and birthday parties. These meaningful events have fallen by the wayside, indefinitely postponed or cancelled altogether. 

And yet, the human spirit is not so easily deterred. Out of love for our families, friends, neighbors and strangers, most of us are self-isolating, forgoing gathering in person, but utilizing unconventional ways to stay connected. This year, my own family had to improvise in order to celebrate a batch of birthdays together.

March is a special month in our family. Three birthdays across three generations happen in March and 2020 was set to be a big one. 

You see, in March of 2019, we endured a mini-quarantine of our own long before the coronavirus broke out. I was in the hospital separated from my newly-born daughter, who arrived nearly two months early and weighed just three pounds and three ounces. Her doll-sized body was whisked away to the NICU before I could even touch her. 

Only the thin plastic walls of her incubator separated us, but when you are aching to hold your newborn baby girl against your chest, those plastic walls might as well be as thick as the Great Wall of China. It was an agonizing few weeks as we hoped and prayed she’d gain weight and be able to come home. She did. She is now a perfectly healthy, rosy-cheeked, chunky baby who turned one-year-old on March 23. 

During the same week, my husband and my mother-in-law have birthdays, too. 

And by God, we were determined to celebrate—to not let these milestones fall between the cracks of this pandemic. But we had to adjust our priorities and expectations. The guest list was trashed. The cake was lopsided. The presents were put on hold. We didn’t risk going to the store for decorations, hats or candles. 

Nonetheless, we had ourselves an intimate little “window party.” 

My husband and I gathered our three children, Rylan Sawyer, Kellan Avery, and Junia Moon, around the dining room, looking out toward the driveway as my in-laws pulled up and set up camp outside of our house for a birthday visit through the window. Nanna and Poppy, both cancer survivors, were not going to miss this day. My three-year-old son, Kellan, excitedly pressed his hands against the glass, giddy to see his Nanna as they sang songs together again at long last. My daughter, Junia Moon clapped and cooed as the sunshine and grandparent love poured through the windows. 

Our party was stripped of all the traditional glitz and glam down to the bare essentials: our closest loved ones showing up for each other the only way they could during this unprecedented pandemic. 

There we were, on opposite sides of the window, just a few off-key voices gratefully singing in the celebration of this fragile, yet resilient, life. And in the end, that’s all that mattered. 

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