This One Tiny Change Made My Daughter’s Pandemic Birthday Extra-Fun

published Feb 24, 2021
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Cupcakes with sprinkles
Credit: Maria Siriano

Staring down a pandemic summer without a single playdate or vacation, our youngest started clinging to the one thing she could look forward to — her August birthday. She was so excited to turn 4, we had to start a countdown calendar a month and a half out, marking off each of the 48 days until the big day. 

So the pressure was on to think of a safe celebration that would live up to all that pent-up anticipation. Our parameters: no guests from outside the household, and no leaving home. Anything that would be here and gone too quickly, like a car parade, wasn’t going to cut it after so much build-up. And I didn’t want to do anything too elaborate with the cake, because it’s only the four of us and we didn’t really need a giant layer cake.

Then it hit me. In the absence of guests, especially, a birthday is all about the presents, right? So we really leaned in to the presents angle, making that the main event for the day. The whole entire day.

We wrapped up 12 gifts, all of them Barbie-themed (although this would work just fine without a theme!) and let the birthday girl open one present at the top of each hour, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. I set alarms on my phone to let everyone know it when was time for the next present.

Credit: Shelley Mann

For the kids’ birthdays, I always like to create a wow moment when they first walk in to the party. I’d been scrounging Facebook Marketplace for gently-used Barbie toy sets to get to 12 gifts without breaking the bank, when I came across a past-season Barbie cruise ship for just 10 bucks. Rather than wrapping it, we set the ship up in front of the gift pile, arranging a few of her existing dolls as sunbathers and pool loungers. Hot pink streamers and a life-sized Barbie cutout completed the gift pile backdrop.  

Not only did opening presents all day extend the festivities, it gave us time to unbox each new toy and play with it for a full hour before moving on to the next thing. I loved that we were able to really appreciate each present rather than digging through a pile of gifts at the end of the night to remember what all we’d opened. 

Throughout the day, we worked in a few guest appearances. Our middle schooler rolled out of bed in time for the 11 o’clock opening, when she watched her sister open the present she’d picked out. My in-laws stopped by mid-afternoon to drop off their present and got to see her open it on the back deck, and we FaceTimed my parents in later in the day while she opened a gift they’d mailed ahead of time. 

Then, when it was time for cake, we Zoomed in a few aunts, uncles and cousins to sing happy birthday and watch the blowing of the candles. Pandemic birthday success.

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