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'That was really, really special': lockdown teaches parents the joy of basic birthdays | Life and style


Sydney schoolgirl Annabel Roth had been planning her Big One Zero for at least six months. There were 20 friends on the invite list, and she had her menu and decorations organised to the finest detail. “Double digits are amazing and huge, especially when you’re the youngest of three,” explains her mother Ariella.

But Covid-19 restrictions care not for the meticulous event planning of almost-10-year-old girls, and Annabel was forced to pivot her party in a way she could never have imaged.

“First, a lot of her friends and their parents changed their exercise routes so they could come past and wave during the day,” says Ariella. “Because so many of these kids were at home with nothing to do they made her these beautiful handmade gifts – a lolly jar that looked like a pineapple, a tie-dyed ‘A’ to hang in her room, elaborate cards – which doesn’t happen any more. That was really, really special.





Annabel eting donuts from a Hills Hoist on her birthday.



Annabel eating donuts from a Hills Hoist on her birthday. Photograph: Ariella Roth

“Then she made up a bunch of games that we played together as a family. We ate donuts off the Hills Hoist, like we used to do with apples when we were kids. We played ‘straw soccer’ where you had to blow a small ball round the table using straws. We did hallway bowling with empty water bottles. And pin-the-tail-on-the-cat – because she loves cats.”

What was most touching, Ariella says, is that Annabel’s older siblings – aged 13 and 14 – got into the action. “Watching my 14-year-old walking around in circles with a pink fluffy mask over his eyes during pin-the-tail-on-the-cat – he wouldn’t normally ever do that – brought tears to my eyes. It was so special to see them bond in that way. ”

The Roth family aren’t the only ones who have discovered that a low-key iso party has its own kind of magic. Earlier this month, Gwyneth Paltrow was pictured beaming and makeup free as friends drove by to wave to her son Moses to mark his 14th birthday, their cars festooned with balloons and streamers. Even Prince Louis, who turned two on 23 April, swapped a proper party for finger-painting, hide and seek and – reportedly – dad Prince William throwing a few snags on the barbie.

Iso parties for really small kids, or kids without a full stable of siblings to play games with, are more of a challenge. Perth mum Kylie Najjar had originally planned a big party for her son Jai’s first birthday, with friends, family and all the trimmings. When she realised that wouldn’t be an option, she got creative and designed a hilarious quarantine party photoshoot, using a printout poster she made herself and a bit of safety tape from Bunnings – at a total cost of around $80. Jai may have been too young to know what was going on, but Kylie thinks the photos and well-wishes from around the world – which poured in after the pictures went viral – is something he’ll treasure for life. “We’re planning on keeping the banner to pull out for his 21st – just add a ‘2’ in front of the ‘1’,” Kylie says.





Jai’s quarantine first birthday party



Jai’s quarantine first birthday party. Photograph: Kylie Najjar

Other families are setting up Zoom parties with their children’s friends and hiring children’s entertainers to join. But if you think real-life kids’ parties are hectic, imagine the limitations of a crowded screen full of overexcited five-year-olds shouting over the top of each other.

Children’s entertaining group Fly By Fun has come up with another solution for little ones who can’t bear to pass a birthday milestone without a visit from Spider-Man or Elsa, by scheduling five-minute one-on-one Zoom chats with a birthday boy or girl’s favourite character – for free. “Our Darth Vader did an appearance for one family and they were all dressed up as different Star Wars characters,” says the company’s founder Isobel Crumblin. “Our entertainer and birthday boy ended up in a virtual light sabre battle.”





A Zoom visit from the Little Mermaid for a child’s birthday party



A Zoom visit from the Little Mermaid for a child’s birthday party. Photograph: Fly By Fun

But the biggest isolation-party perk of all, at least for the parents’ purse strings, is the cost-to-fun ratio, as Ariella Roth discovered.

“When I think back to the thousands of dollars I’ve spent on birthday parties for three kids over the last 15 years it’s amazing that a homegrown party with basic food and family time – closer to what we would have done as kids – was just as effective,” she says. “If not more.”

Have you celebrated a child’s birthday party in lockdown? Let us know how you did it in the comments.

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