(Photo/Flickr-Shay Barzilai CC BY-NC 2.0)
(Photo/Flickr-Shay Barzilai CC BY-NC 2.0)

Is my birthday boy getting too used to being isolated?

My youngest son is turning 5 next month, and he’s never had a birthday party.

For a long time, this was sort of a running joke about neglected second kids. My oldest son, 8, has a July birthday and we’ve thrown him parties in the park with cake and friends almost every year of his life.

But shortly after Harvey was born, we moved to a cold climate, and we couldn’t exactly gather in the park in March for his 1st birthday. When he turned 2 and 3, we had small family celebrations at home. Harvey wasn’t in school yet, so there was no pressure to invite his toddler friends.

We love him dearly, but we didn’t feel a sense of urgency to plan a big public event for his early birthdays the way we did when our oldest, Nate, was the same age. What can we say? He’s our second kid.

When Harvey was turning 4, though, we decided to make up for birthdays past. He’s a social butterfly, and he talks constantly about his best friends from preschool. We invited his school friends to our apartment with plans to entertain them and feed them sugar for a couple of hours; Harvey would have a blast. Harvey’s birthday is on St. Patrick’s Day, and the party was scheduled for the weekend of March 21, 2020. You can see where this was heading: We canceled the party due to Covid, and Harvey didn’t get to have his birthday party.

As we approach the first anniversary of Covid lockdown, everyone I’ve talked to has headed into March with a sense of dread. It’s ominous and dispiriting to realize we’ve been at this for a year — keeping distant from our friends and families, having no break at all from our partners and children — even for families like mine that have been blessed with good health during the pandemic.

We all have, I think, some sort of marker in our lives that represents either the last moment of normalcy or the first time everything felt different.

Just a week before we were going to have Harvey’s party, we planned to head to a bar with friends to celebrate my husband Aaron’s birthday, which is also in March. The Covid news was getting more and more ominous by the day, especially in New York City, where we lived. Aaron had already started working from home, but we weren’t sure whether we should cancel the night out; restaurants and bars were still open. In the end, we did cancel, though we thought we might be overreacting. It was only later that it became fully clear that we had made the right choice.

It’s depressing to enter a second year of Covid birthdays, a year in which Harvey, again, will have no party.

Lately the walls have closed in on us even more. A couple of weeks ago, Nate broke his leg skiing on the local mountain that’s close to where we live now, in Maine. Outdoor winter sports are supposed to be safe activities during the pandemic. I can’t say that I recommend skiing for this reason. Nate’s right leg is encased in a big, blue cast that extends from his toes to his thigh. When he’s home, he ignores his crutches and hops on one foot around the house.

And home is pretty much where we stay all the time now. There’s ice on the ground outside, and the nature walks and beach visits that were our only recreation are impractical on crutches.

So I was pleased when Harvey requested a birthday celebration that is perfectly Covid-safe and lines up precisely with our home-bound lives: He wants a family pajama party where “we all stay in our PJs all day and build a giant fort with every blanket in the house.” That I can provide.

But it makes me sad, too. Because the truth is that my kids have gotten used to being home all the time, to being isolated, to being distanced. They have turned inward, and that’s what they’re starting to prefer.

I’m looking forward to the months ahead — when Nate’s cast comes off, when more and more people get the Covid vaccine. I’m eager to re-enter the world, and I hope it won’t be too much of a shock when I bring my children with me.

Drew Himmelstein
Drew Himmelstein

Drew Himmelstein is a former J. reporter who writes about education, families and Jewish life. She lives with her husband and two sons.