We were talking about birthdays yesterday, and Kina remembered when she turned three and ate cupcakes at school with her friends. We have a video of that day, in which you can see Kina with her hair pulled back in a perfect ponytail, sitting silently at the head of a long, low table. She, like the ten other children around the table, has a cupcake on a little plate. The other children and her three teachers sing “Happy Birthday” to her as she absorbs the spectacle. The video ends with her face in the middle of the frame, all of three years old, serious but calm. Sometimes, when we talk about birthdays, she asks to watch that video. It makes her happy.
Kina didn’t have a birthday at school this year, because she’s had nothing at school this year. Her teachers celebrated her birthday in the morning meeting when she turned four, but there were no cupcakes, and she did not have a ponytail. Yesterday, when Kina was thinking about her third birthday, she asked if most kids had school birthdays, and I said yes, many do. (As the bearer of a summer birthday, I never did, which always made me envious of the other children. Now, it means I have a birthday in the best part of the year, and I want to go back and tell little me that summer birthdays are cool.) She asked if she would have a school birthday after COVID, and I said yes, she would, for sure. Later, when we were sitting at the dinner table, we were talking about something else that we missed—I can’t remember what—and she mused quietly, with confidence, “After COVID we’ll do it.”
Even though the school stuff is hard (and the birthday stuff, and the play dates stuff, and the grandparents stuff), Kina’s probably more patient that Laurea and I are about the slow decline of this pandemic. She trusts the end is coming, because we tell her it is, and so she is just keeping a little list in her head of the things that will happen “after COVID” (even when those things seem implausible): sleepovers, visits from teachers, home lunches with her stylist, play dates with friends, trampolines, rides on airplanes, visits from grandparents. Her list is not that different from our own, and so her confidence gives us a little hope about the things that we need, too.
I’m looking forward to new videos of school birthdays, to hosting far more dinners at our house than we ever did in the Before Times, to long visits with family and drinks with friends. I don’t want to jinx it, but it’s beginning to feel like the plane’s going to land. Half of Kina’s grandparents have gotten their first shots, and a smattering of friends and relatives have, too. It didn’t feel fun to keep a list last year—the end seemed too far off—but these moments when Kina talks about life after COVID don’t feel so sad anymore. It’s like she’s talking about what she’s going to do after her nap.
Tomorrow, soon, in a little bit, she’ll be sitting in her classroom with a cupcake again. Her teachers will be singing “Happy Birthday”, and she’ll be grinning ear to ear. After class, she’ll come home and tell us all about her day. Maybe her grandparents will be here and we can take her to a restaurant for a fancy dinner. She’ll be five, and everybody in the city of New York will give her a hug. It’s all on the list. I can’t wait, but I’m waiting.