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Xavier’s Birthday in a Time of Covid-19

Xavier is our first grandchild who turned six years old last April 4.

As Covid-19 continues to wreak havoc and majority of us are under stay-at-home orders, I’ve started to feel the quarantine blues. I guess that’s a normal feeling by anyone who is locked down in one’s own home for almost a month now. The only exceptions are when, on a few occasions, my wife and I would walk around the neighborhood to get a breath of fresh air while practicing social distancing or when we would drive to our daughter and son-in-law’s house to see the grandchildren from the proper distance.

But in the beginning of April, I felt something different because Xavier was going to celebrate his birthday on April 4. He is turning six. How is he going to celebrate his birthday given the current situation we are in? He is young and, like his parents, I wanted his birthday to be the best.

I don’t want him to celebrate his birthday in isolation, without his friends, relatives, and classmates. Birthdays are supposed to be joyful. But with this pandemic, how can this be possible?

This pandemic has upended traditional birthday celebrations because the urgent call of the moment is for social distancing. Gone are the parties where many are invited, tons of food served, and lots of games played. Gone also is the sight of shrieking children running around mischievously in the house. I believe that these are some of the things Xavier would have enjoyed tremendously for his birthday.

Although Xavier has been celebrating his birthdays since he was born, I thought that his sixth birthday should be extra special and memorable because he is old enough to remember.

Reminiscing my birthday as a child makes me feel special, appreciated, valued and loved. I want Xavier to have a similar experience. When he grows up, I want him to have something beautiful to remember.

A week before Xavier’s birthday, my wife mailed his birthday card and ordered something for him. But a birthday card or gift can never replace the joy of being surrounded by his friends and relatives serenading him with a song while blowing the candles on his birthday cake and opening his gifts afterwards.

I was resigned to the fact that because of social distancing, Xavier’s birthday would probably be quite simple compared to the previous ones. It would not be a big party. It would be a simple celebration with his parents and two brothers around him.

Would a simple party make Xavier happy? Probably yes. Would he remember it twenty or thirty years from now? Probably not.

But I might have spoken too soon.

A few days before his birthday, his mom emailed their neighbors, most of them she did not even personally know, asking them if they could put a sign in their front windows greeting Xavier: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, XAVIER.

The plan was for Xavier, his two young brothers, and his parents to drive around the neighborhood on the day of his birthday and surprise him with all the birthday greetings from people he does not even know. Wrote Xavier’s mom in her email, “This would make him feel special amidst the pandemic and would really brighten his day. Thank you.”

I thought it was a brilliant idea, quite unique, and would make Xavier and his family connected with their neighbors while keeping their distance.

But, at the same time, I was worried that if my daughter gets a zero response from her neighbors, Xavier’s sixth birthday would probably be remembered as being upended by the coronavirus, devoid of anything worth remembering.

But, lo and behold, when I checked with our daughter if she got a response from her neighbors, she said that fifteen families agreed to make birthday signs for Xavier. Later, we found out that eight more families joined in in celebrating Xavier.

My wife and I would have been happy even if only five families would make the birthday signs. But, with 23 families volunteering, we were more than elated. We were truly surprised, excited, and thankful that during these strange times, Xavier and his family are lucky to be living in a neighborhood where concern for each other abounds.

What this gesture tells me is that the neighbors are willing to defy this pandemic in a way that can make people, especially children, meaningfully celebrate their birthday.

We were later told by our daughter that Xavier was surprised and thrilled to see the different birthday greetings written in various colors and designs as they drove past the different homes that put a sign greeting him.

As the birthday sign hunt continued from one house to the next, Xavier would come out of the family van, unmindful of the light rain, and would hold a sign prepared by his dad that says THANK YOU. His birthday during this time of covid-19 went without a hitch. He must not have felt alone even when his neighbors were social distancing. I am positively sure that he will remember his birthday in this time of coronavirus.

But what I want him to learn – and remember at the same time – is how to be caring in times of crises. I hope he learned something from the caring attitude and goodness of his neighbors. What a priceless gift to treasure by a six-year-old!

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