When you’re counting your age by “-and-a-half” or “-and-three-quarters,” birthdays are A Very Big Deal. But how do you celebrate under a coronavirus stay-at-home order, when traditional birthday parties with tons of friends and family aren’t possible? Here’s how seven Seattle-area kids marked another lap around the sun in these very weird times.
Carter Sears, turned 6 this month
A Bothell fire engine rolled down the residential street, lights flashing. “Hello, hello!” came a man’s voice over the megaphone. “Carter, is that you?”
Carter, a newly minted 6, stood outside his house in Bothell, between his mom and dad, and raised his hand. The firefighters sang, “Happy birthday to you … and many more.”
Carter’s dad, Jesse Sears, is a local firefighter who called in a huge favor to arrange this surprise. Carter knows he can’t see his grandma or play with his friends now, and his dad wanted to give him a birthday to remember. The firetruck’s visit was just the thing for a little boy who wants to grow up to be a firefighter, too.
“I had to pull out something special, because it’s kind of a bad time to have a birthday,” Sears said. “The fire department coming by meant a lot to us. Brought both my wife and I to tears. Those guys are great, great people and they take care of the community over there.
“It was nice to have a little bit of joy right now with everything else crazy that’s going on.”
Theo Choe, turned 4 last month
Birthdays meant a party at Chuck E. Cheese, or so Theo thought — he learned that much from his big brother.
But when having friends over fell out of the question and Party City closed, his birthday plans derailed. The family hadn’t even left the Bellevue apartment complex where they live in weeks. So instead, Van Pham Choe picked up a $30 QFC cake and set up a Zoom conference with her son’s preschool buddies and cousins.
“He was so excited to see his friends from school,” Choe said. “It was crazy because it was 12 toddlers with no concept of video conferencing. They’re all talking at the same time. None of them understood each other. They were just so happy to see each other on Zoom.”
They blew out the candles, everyone sang, and Theo was really happy. “Definitely, at 4 years old, that was more than enough for him,” Choe said.
Evelynn Zukowski, turned 8 last month
Evelynn’s calendar is usually packed with hockey, gymnastics, school and friends. Now there’s nothing. Zero.
The plan was to celebrate her birthday with her hockey teammates, but one tournament after another got canceled. There was nothing anyone could do about it. When her parents asked what she wanted for her birthday, Evelynn said, “I want Daddy’s meatballs and pasta with cake.”
“That’s even easier!” said her mom, Yuhan Hsieh.
The father-daughter team made homemade meatballs, sauce and a lemon cake together, everything from scratch. Stan Zukowski doesn’t follow a recipe — he made up his own years ago, and it was so good he just stuck with it. The West Seattle family got some balloons, a few presents and Evelynn made a classified wish: “I won’t tell you my wish, because if I tell you, it won’t come true.”
Hannah Bruno, turned 10, and Liam Bruno, turned 7, both last month
Hannah saw a line of cars driving slowly past her house in Magnolia, then realized those were her friends with the windows rolled down, popping out of sunroofs, to wish her a happy birthday. She was so excited and started waving and calling out their names. It was the first time she’d gotten a glimpse of her friends since school closed on March 11.
The surprise birthday parade was organized by her mom, Carrie Bruno. Hannah’s brother’s birthday falls exactly one week later, and of course he wanted the same thing for his birthday. Another parade of cars, this time Liam’s friends, drove down the street the following weekend.
Usually both sets of grandparents come visit for birthday season — that didn’t happen this year. And the parties they’d planned (Family Fun Center for Hannah, Playdate SEA for Liam) both got canceled.
“We promised them when things return to normal, we’ll celebrate how they want to,” their mom said. “I’m not in any hurry to get to any place like Playdate SEA.”
Zion Robinson, turned 8 this month
Of all the things he could have asked for, Zion told his mom he wanted a guava cake from Cakes of Paradise for his birthday.
“Their cakes are killer,” Michelle Decaney said. “They’re moist, they’re flavorful, you just really can’t go wrong.”
Problem was, Cakes of Paradise was closed when Zion requested the cake. Decaney happened to check its website again later, found out there was a short window for pickup in Georgetown and immediately submitted the order. (The store has since reopened and is offering a limited menu for pickup.)
“That was the one thing he asked for,” Decaney said. “I’m really happy we were able to make that happen for him.”
Birthdays usually mean a house full of people: 30-40 family members and close friends all packed together. This year, it was just Zion, his parents and two siblings at their rented house in the Central District.
“We usually have big parties, so this is very different for us,” Decaney said. “Our family is well and healthy and we want to make sure it stays that way.”
Ramona Erickson, turned 8 this month
Ramona was supposed to have her first sleepover party ever, and she’d written and decorated all the invitations. But now that’s indefinitely postponed.
“She reacted pretty well,” said her mom, Mela Erickson. “She was disappointed, but she wasn’t as upset as I thought she’d be. I think saying it was ‘postponed’ instead of ‘canceled’ definitely helped.”
The sleepover turned into a party of just four: Ramona, plus her 4-year-old sister, her mom and her aunt. They stayed at her uncle’s cabin outside Arlington, where they are social distancing. Festivities included hiking, playing with balloons, decorating the living room, frosting a cake, decorating mommy with stickers, roasting marshmallows in the fireplace, movie night, dance party, painting, unicorn croquet …
“Turned out pretty good,” Erickson said. ”She called it her best birthday ever.”