A Birthday We Will Never Forget

A watercolor painting of a sad balloon, floating in a cloudy sky
Image created via Midjourney // Anna Burgess Yang

Quentin turns 8 years old today.  We could never have imagined a birthday like this one.

Our schools are shut down, at least until April 6th, but I am guessing that it will be longer.  Restaurants are closed to dine-in eating.  We had plans to go to a hotel and waterpark in a few weeks to celebrate his birthday and that has been canceled.  All due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) and the practicing of social distancing to help flatten the curve — a bunch of phrases that weren't even in my vocabulary a week ago.

I have taken each closure in stride.  We saw what was coming and prepared ourselves with household staples.  I said "I've got this" to myself as I prepared daily routines for each of my kids to accommodate elementary school e-learning and entertaining a toddler.  We have had a host of "new" experiences, like church via Zoom meeting and watching the Metropolitan Opera perform Carmen.

Ger and I have somberly watched as the world became more and more serious.  With each new recommendation from the CDC, each report from the federal government, and each announcement of the death toll, we have to keep telling ourselves that "eventually, it will be ok."  We are going to have a New Normal for awhile.

It is also a bit surreal to me that while my older kids will remember this time for the rest of their lives, that Autumn, at 2.5 will not remember any of it.  If our lives are forever changed in the "after", she will not know the before.  If somehow we come out of this and everyday life goes back to "before" this will be for her like what 09/11 was for people who were very young or not born yet: something that cannot fully be appreciated for its gravity unless you lived through it.

What finally broke me down was Quentin's birthday this morning.  I sat in my office before the sun came up, crying.  I cried over everything he will not get to have: a special day in his classroom, the hotel weekend we had planned, and time with his friends.  I know that this pales in comparison to what many people face, but everything spilled out of me.  Much like the virus, I could not contain my emotions.

Quentin asked me hopefully last night, "Do you think my teacher will wish me a happy birthday?" and my heart ached.  I told him that I wasn't sure, because the teachers have so much going on right now.  I debated whether or not to email his teacher, not wanting to add more to the burden that I know teachers are facing.

This morning is the first official day of e-learning in the schools.  At 7:57 a.m., an email arrived from his teacher, outlining the work for the day.  In the email she wrote:

"Before we get started, wish Quentin a Happy Birthday! I'm sure, somehow, that he'll hear us in his heart."

I started crying again.  I read the email aloud to Quentin and the biggest smile spread across his face.

I replied back to the teacher and said:

Thank you so much for the shout-out for Quentin's birthday. He was asking me last night if you would remember. I know there is so much going on right now and you made his day (and mine).

Within minutes I had a response from his teacher:

'If you can lay down at night, knowing in your heart that you made someone's day just a little bit better, you know you had a good day'.  Now I've had a good day, too!

It is definitely a birthday that we will never forget.

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