Yesterday our granddaughter celebrated her 9th birthday. It was time for a party after two birthdays with Covid restrictions.
Her 7th birthday was celebrated on the front steps of her home in April 2020 when the world was locked down and nobody knew how the virus spread. We took wrapped presents, set them on the lowest step, then moved back so that she could retrieve the gifts and open them while we watched from a distance. No touching. No hugs. Brave smiles all around.
Birthday number eight in April 2021 was slightly better but celebrated in the midst of the Delta lockdown. Indoor gathering limits of no more than six people meant that we sat on outdoor furniture in their garage with our son, daughter-in-law, and our grandson while she opened her gifts. By then we knew that the virus was airborne but took no chances, adhered to public health guidelines, and set an example. Our granddaughter proudly served special cupcakes and we sang the happy birthday song as sparklers blazed.
Birthday Number Nine
For the past months, our granddaughter counted the days up to April 29. She showed as much anticipation for this birthday as for Santa or the Easter Bunny.
This was the first time her school friends were invited to her house. She chose the colour themes — pink and gold for balloons, plates, napkins and loot bags. Chocolate cupcake with pink icing and gold candles.
There was eating, giggling, shouting, and much fun. The noise of happy children could be heard on the street as she and her friends frolicked on the patio, danced in the basement and ran through the house.
We weren’t invited to the party per see but were asked to come over as it ended for a family gathering. We heard the party noise as we arrived. The joy in the eyes of every child as they ran to their parents waiting in cars on the street was remarkable. There were tearful good-byes, thank yous, and declarations that it was the best party ever.
As a former child and family therapist, I was struck by the evidence of the many experiences growing up these children had missed during the pandemic. One girl remarked that this was the first time she had attended a party that was just for kids.
Essential social development has been compromised for many children all over the world. Experiences such as attending birthday parties and interacting with friends were denied as families isolated.
Everyone is aware that online education left gaps in learning but the limited opportunities for developing informal relationships with peers have, in my opinion, been underestimated. In recent months schools opened, but most families have continued to limit social engagements to immediate family members. With vaccines available for children more than 5 years old, some extracurricular activities resumed including things like sports, music lessons, and science clubs but children’s parties just weren’t on the priority list.
Watching the children hug each other, exchange friendship bracelets, and say happy good-byes to each other made me realize how much each child lost during pandemic isolation times.
I’ve always been confident about the resilience of children so I believe that they will compensate for whatever learning has been lost in terms of academics, emotional development and psychological strength. My fervent hope is that they haven’t lost the essential childhood happiness and confidence that comes from having friends to strengthen their character. After all, it’s social and emotional development that forms the cornerstone for achievement in school and in life.