The middle child has had his birthday party. This isn’t news in itself, but given that his actual birthday was in August, it’s probably more notable. Back then, everyone was on their summer holidays, so we pushed it out until the first few weeks of school. Then our finances were wiped out by back-to-school costs, so we pushed it back again to some point in the future. But like any family watching the numbers rise, we realised it was now or never. It was clear that if we were going to get this kid’s birthday party done within the calendar year that it actually took place, we had to strike.
We soon discovered that a lot of soft play areas have either decided to call it a day and closed forever or they are going to wait until such time as they feel the pandemic is over. I envy both their patience and optimism.
We found one that was willing to take a booking, and got to handing out the invites; the venue needed a minimum of 10 for a birthday party booking, and figuring that we would have some of them politely declined, we issued a baker’s dozen, and ended up with eight who actually showed up. We were thankful anyone showed up. It was a big ask — we might as well have sent out liability waivers with all the colourful jungle-themed invites. But at this stage of the pandemic, there is nobody left who doesn’t realise there is risk in any kind of gathering.
We know the risks and we make endless calculations on a daily basis on what is or is not worth it. Objectively, a child’s birthday party is not worth it. But for us, for the middle son, this gathering was — his was the summer birthday that never was and he bore it all with his usual stoicism.
He is the one child who we say, well, you can bring him anywhere, he is as good as gold.
Since he was small, he was the little guy you could rely on to stay by your side in the shop and not act the maggot. He’s the kind one who comes and gives you a hug every morning, brings his plate over to the sink after dinner, gets himself dressed…all of this may be commonplace in most younglings, but in our little unit he is an outlier.
He is kind and sweet, and routinely gets thrown around by his younger brother who is a more robust creature than he. He also sometimes goes unheard in all the sturm und drang, and he often has to ask me three or four times to help with something, just because he gets drowned out by the other two ignoramuses.
All of this is, of course, no excuse for having any kind of gathering as numbers escalate. It’s the sort of thing that, were I to read it in a paper, I’d snort and think how selfish that person was for thinking a child’s party is more important than public health.
But there are a lot of people who have to make a lot of tough choices about risk, and how to manage our lives with this extra threat. Living with Covid is looking like a long-haul operation, and childhood is relatively short, so we took the risk, because it was, in our eyes, worth it.
We have as much to lose as anyone, but the fear is always that rather than causing harm under your own roof, you would bring it down on someone else. But all the other parents know what is at stake as well. We are all adults and it has been the guts of two years now. In the words of Leonard Cohen, everybody knows.
The party was a great success — they all screamed and ran riot, no parents hung about for the free coffee, it was all drop-offs and pick-ups and the kids were the only ones doing the mixing, just as they are in school. If we had delayed any later in the year, the party probably wouldn’t have happened, but we calculated the risk and went for it, and hearing all the little people running around roaring at each other and throwing themselves down slides was something that felt very normal, in an abnormal time.