Let Them Be Little

My child's birthday party had no masks, and it was so worth it.
Photo courtesy of Ashley Jones

The Exquisite Sweetness Of The First Post-Pandemic Birthday Party

Yes, a real one. And I would do it all over again.

Throughout the beginning of my son’s kindergarten year, we attended countless birthday parties, and my son wanted nothing more than to have his own party one day. So, I promised that he could. But then, COVID happened, and I had to break my promise. Just one year, right? Just missing one birthday party to help flatten the curve and save the world. It’s no big deal.

But the longer the pandemic lingered, the more I worried about his next birthday party. So you know what, I decided to throw one.

I know what you’re thinking. A party? Now? When there still isn’t herd immunity or vaccines for small children? Yes. I know. I know.

I know it's controversial to say the quiet part out loud, but we live in Texas where pandemic-related limitations are now few and far between, so I just went for it. And I’m incredibly glad that I did.

Here’s the thing: This party was the freaking breath of fresh air we all — kids and parents alike — needed after more than a year of so many restrictions on everything.

The party was outside at a park that was actually still closed at this same time last year, and the kids who came got to run around and play with each other for a solid two hours. They slid down the slides with gusto, ate (individual serving) snacks, drank juice boxes, gobbled up plenty of cupcakes, and for those two hours they were just... normal kids. Without masks. Without social distancing rules. Without worrying about COVID tests.

A party at a park with just playground equipment as entertainment probably isn’t what my son had in mind after attending multiple parties back in the pre-COVID days at indoor trampoline parks and go-kart tracks. But for his party this year, it was the safest — and honestly, the most glorious — option.

The simplicity of it all was actually the best part. My aunt and uncle gifted my son a hula hoop and a new soccer ball (at his request) which were promptly opened upon their arrival and played with throughout the entire party. If someone would have told me prior to last year that something as simple as a hula hoop would have been one of the most entertaining parts of a 7-year-old’s birthday party, I would’ve laughed out loud.

Note: We had plenty of hand sanitizer with our cupcakes.Photo courtesy of Ashley Jones

Before last weekend, I’d never thrown huge blowout parties for my kids. In my nearly nine years of parenting, we’d limited our celebrations to hosting family members and a handful of close friends at a couple of backyard pool parties. We even managed to convince my stepkids a time or two that instead of a party, an out-of-town trip to a waterpark was much more fun.

I’m a pretty introverted parent. I don’t have a ton of “mom friends” and I’ve honestly never been all that interested in the concept. Sure, I attend school functions (you know, when they used to happen) and soccer practices, but hosting a big birthday party with all of my kid’s friends from school? That’s never been my scene. But as it turns out, you can be a different person after the pandemic.

Plenty of speculation about post-pandemic life has made the rounds on social media. A top question I’ve seen time and time again: What will it be like to socialize again? Well, the pandemic may not be over just yet, but I can confirm that socializing again after more than a year of staying mostly at home is pretty exhausting, not to mention a bit awkward.

I know I wasn't the only one who felt super weird finally talking face-to-face with parents, some of whom I’ve only seen through a screen. There were a few weirdly extended handshakes and some fumbled questions about vaccines, but overall, it was just nice to see people again.

Despite how tiring and awkward it was, even my introverted self was over-the-moon happy to have hosted a successful party. I felt immense joy handing out treat bags to my son’s classmates at the end of it all. Despite being in class with my kid daily since they returned mid-September, until the day of the party, I had literally never met most of them.

Honestly, I’m tired of seeing my kids suffer through this pandemic, and as it turns out, so are other parents. I knew that throwing this party could come with some pushback and perhaps some unwelcome criticism if I went through with it and then posted photos on social media, but what I didn’t expect was gratitude.

Last night, my husband and I traded stories about the different parents who thanked us for being “brave enough” to host an actual birthday party. I never thought of it as brave though. After all, the vaccines are doing what vaccines do, people are going to baseball games again, they’re taking vacations, and life is starting to look much more like what it used to. What I was really focused on was just how much my son would benefit from having something close to the fun-filled birthday party that he had begged for back before the entire world changed.

After months of canceled plans and disappointment after disappointment for my own kids and so many others, I was able to provide my child with the gift of a promise finally fulfilled, his friends with a fun afternoon playing in the park, and their parents with a couple of hours to watch their kids just be the carefree kids they used to be once again.