Opinion: "we will sing Happy Birthday to the birthday boy, blow out the candles and remember the coronavirus birthday as a special one"

In my day job, I am a research fellow in UCC, exploring the archaeology of the Viking world. I look at what the archaeological remains of Viking houses can tell us about the day to day life of Vikings. Normally, when I get home from work, my three kids jump at me to tell me all about how their day was, what they did in school and what their friends said and did.

But now, our kids' worlds have changed utterly. They are no longer going to school. Their childminder has disappeared and their parents are home all day. They can't play with their friends. They are listening to the news and hearing parents talk about this big "coronavirus" thing. When my boys play fight, they are fighting "coronavirus".

Some kids are lucky enough to live near their grandparents, so they can wave through the window to them. My kids haven’t seen their grandparents since January. We were going to visit at St. Patrick’s weekend but we had to cancel as my father is high-risk and we can’t take a chance. We don’t know when we will see them in person again.

There is a lot of uncertainty around and children will react to this. They have shorter tempers, they are not getting enough physical exercise, they are missing their friends, they don’t want to go to the school of Mum and Dad instead of their real school.

One thing has not change, though, and birthdays still happen. My oldest boy attended a birthday party yesterday when one of his best friends – Rian – turned 10. Rian has a severe respiratory illness and hasn’t been in school since February, but about 15 of his friends all logged onto Zoom to sing happy birthday at his virtual birthday party. In a tribute to the connections with his teaching team, even the school SNAs logged on. If these SNAs are seconded to caring and respite duties during this crisis, the people who they are caring for are in for a treat.

As if it wasn’t enough for Rian to get to see all his friends, we were brought outside the front door to see a cavalcade of Gardai cars and bikes, fire engines and community gardai drive by. Rian is is an honorary Garda and his parents cooked this up with LIttle Blue Heroes as a pandemic birthday treat.

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From RTÉ News, Cork gardaí and fire brigade sang Happy Birthday to honorary Garda Rian for his tenth birthday

My middle boy will turn six this week. He started Junior Infants last September and has endured five years of listening to his older brother plan his birthday celebrations. We’ve had pirate themes, Lego cakes, science parties, a bowling trip, deliberations over who to invite and what to buy with the money he receives from his friends (in our school, we pop a €5 into a card so the birthday child can choose their own present – great tip for parents!). This year was going to be his first big school party with his friends.

Alas it is not to be. Schools closed three weeks ago and one of his friends has already had a birthday. We looked at the flurry of WhatsApp messages on the class parents group wishing her Happy Birthday and Mr. Middle turned to me and asked "will coronavirus be over by my birthday?"

By this point, he has accepted that it’s not going to be over, and we spent yesterday discussing what we can do for his birthday, instead of what we can’t. The first decision is that he will simply have to have two parties – a coronavirus party next week and a big party when this is all over. Secondly, he would like to have homemade pizza for dinner on his birthday.

His birthday cake was the subject of intense discussion. Chocolate cake, chocolate biscuit cake, carrot cake, strawberry cake – these were all possible options. For a few minutes, he wanted a combination of chocolate spread and lemon curd, but the final decision was a lemon cake. We will have a Zoom party with his friends and a Zoom party with his grandparents and cousins. He has, for now, pronounced himself satisfied with these decisions, though I predict a few more changes in cake flavour between now and the birthday day.

By nature, I am a planner, so I have already googled "kids corona birthday lockdown parties" several times. For his Zoom party, I’m planning a scavenger hunt for the kids to run around and find things to show off, a joke-telling slot and a couple of games of Simon Says and Musical Statues. We will sing Happy Birthday to the birthday boy, blow out the candles and remember the coronavirus birthday as a special one.

Normally, Brainstorm publish articles based around our academic areas of expertise, but right now, our whole lives – academic or not – are in flux. We can’t go to our offices, teaching is online, our fieldwork and experiments are on hold, there are no seminars or guest lectures and no coffee breaks or lunches. In the midst of such uncertainty, this birthday celebration is a welcome spark of light.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ