Max launched himself out of bed and raced into his parents’ bedroom bellowing, “Get up, get up already, today is my birthday!” The commotion continued as Max bounced around the apartment like a jackrabbit singing, “I’m five, I’m five, I’m five,” waking up his little sister Ellie, who immediately joined in the merriment. At two years old, she wasn’t sure what she was celebrating, but she laughed and whooped as she joined her brother jumping on the sofa.
Jessie dragged herself out of bed groaning. This pandemic had ruined all her plans for a gymnastics birthday party for her darling boy. They had been planning the party for months and Max had a special countdown calendar to keep track of the days. Now with the pandemic, the party had to be cancelled and Jessie was so disappointed for him.
Max would still have a party, but it would be over Zoom.
Jessie choked down a lump in her throat as she watched her two tiny children running around the living room in circles. Their laughter reminded her there was at least a bit of a bright side to this Zoom party. The party preparations had been an excellent isolation activity, and Max and Ellie had spent many hours giggling and debating which party supplies and toys to order as they scrolled online. Normally, Jessie limited their screen time, so they were ecstatic to have all the extra time on the computer. Max had fun choosing birthday presents and called his two grandmothers repeatedly, changing the items on his wishlist over and over again. A good brother, he let Ellie pick out a few items as well.
Jesse went into the kitchen and prepared a special breakfast of chocolate chip waffles with fresh maple syrup for the birthday boy. Max scampered in and gobbled up his waffles, stuffing huge chunks into his tiny mouth and dripping the gooey combination of syrup and melted chocolate all over himself. The liquid soaked into his pajamas and made a giant mess. After an emergency bath, Max put on his favorite dinosaur shirt, and joined his father outside their apartment. Together, father and son pretended to be spies as they stealthily walked around their building on tiptoes, hiding behind plants and in alcoves before secretly placing goody bags at the doors of five of Max’s friends. Inside the goody bags were party hats, blowers, prizes, candy, a cupcake, and a homemade tambourine. Max laughed throughout the entire mission, his uninhibited giggling echoing throughout the halls. His dad grinned broadly; this was the first fun he had since the pandemic began.
Party time arrived and Max bounced up and down on his chair as his friends and grandparents appeared on the computer screen one by one. Max immediately told his friends to open their front door for a surprise, and the children screeched as they discovered their goody bags. Jessie’s plan had been for the kids to take out one item at a time as each activity unfolded, though her plan was foiled when all five of the children immediately dumped out the entire contents of their bags and began cramming candy in their mouths. Jessie grimaced; already things were falling apart.
Jessie’s mind began to wander, and she contemplated how quickly life had changed and how unfair it was that Max couldn’t have a birthday party like all his friends. She had had so little time to plan for this Zoom party and there were so few guidelines, but she knew Max loved music and took a chance that a sing-along with Miss Susie might be fun.
Miss Susie popped up on the screen at the appointed time and soon had the children singing “The Wheels on the Bus” as they laughed and played their tambourines. Jessie sighed, relieved that things were back on track, when all of a sudden, the children started acting like five-year-olds. One of the kids started substituting poopy-head for all of the words of the songs, then all of the children started screaming poopy-head, and before long things were out of control. To her credit, Miss Susie kept on singing until her time was up, eventually restoring a modicum of order, and Jessie made a mental note to give her a big tip.
Jessie had high hopes for the next event: the joke contest. Each child was to tell their best joke, and the winner would get a prize. Max went first. He asked, “What’s louder than a dinosaur? Two dinosaurs,” and all the children laughed and clapped their hands. When it was their turn, much to Jessie’s chagrin, each child told Max’s exact same joke. Jessie hit her forehead as Grandma chuckled and declared all the children winners. Soon it was time for cake and all the parents joined in and sang “Happy Birthday” to Max as he blew out his candles. The party lasted only an hour, but it was one of the longest hours of Jessie’s life.
After the party was over, Jessie went to the closet and gave Max the presents from his grandparents. Max tore at the wrapping paper, sending particles flying through the air as he ripped open each gift. He then helped Ellie, whose little fingers were struggling with the tape, to open her small presents. As Jessie watched her two children playing with their new toys, she couldn’t stop the tears from flowing down her cheeks. This was not what she’d had in mind for Max’s special day, she felt like it was a fiasco. And as Max began lining up all his new dinosaurs, he looked at his mother and said, “Mommy, this was the best birthday ever.”
Peggy Gerber is a poet and short story writer from New Jersey. She is proud to be one of the co-founder of Champagne Writers, a group for authors of a certain age. Peggy has been published multiple times and some of those publications are Potato Soup Journal, Daily Science Fiction, 101words.org, Terror House Magazine and others.