“So, what’s the occasion?” the man asked me, making small talk as a giant inflatable obstacle course took shape in my backyard. It was a completely natural assumption that someone in the house must have a birthday or other milestone on the way, and I could have lied and made one up. Instead, I told the truth: “Ummm, February?”
Welcome to our house, where we have recently embraced what I like to call random acts of celebration. These are the off-peak special activities and spontaneous splurges that are my response to more than a year of living on “pandemic time,” where days and weeks often felt indistinguishable, we were cut off from normal socializing and we really, really needed a mood boost.
It started last fall, when COVID-19 restrictions in our part of California eased temporarily and the local indoor play gym offered private family sessions for a shockingly low price in an attempt to stay afloat. I immediately signed up, and my three kids spent a glorious 90 minutes climbing, sliding and shrieking somewhere other than our house. I would have paid twice as much. The crazy-low bounce house rental deal was another “why not?” purchase, but we’ve also done things on a much smaller scale such as cupcakes on a random Tuesday, a pinata just for kicks (or, I suppose, hits) and a day when my 6-year-old distributed matching camouflage face masks to her first-grade cohort.
I like to think of the no-occasion celebration as our family’s version of the “unbirthday party” from Alice in Wonderland. As the Mad Hatter so reasonably observed, who would choose to wait for a single annual birthday when you could have 364 unbirthdays? Not surprisingly, this concept was an instant hit with my kids, who have always argued that half-birthdays should be celebrated with the same pomp and circumstance as full birthdays.
Part of the magic of being a parent, for me, has been vicariously revisiting the time of life when every day seems filled with endless possibilities. I’ve always loved surprising my kids by planning something unexpected and fun nowhere near a formal holiday, but I didn’t integrate spontaneity into our routines as often as I intended to until the pandemic basically obliterated those routines. Once I began doing it more, I was reminded how good it feels; quite honestly, it brings me as much enjoyment as it brings my kids.
Some of the things we’ve done might seem a bit “extra” at first glance, and our neighbors no doubt raised an eyebrow when the bounce house showed up. But I think it’s safe to say any parent wants to make their child’s world a little brighter, especially in times of global uncertainty and hardship. For our family, the random act of celebration has helped shine a light when other areas of life seem dark – when we’re missing the kids’ grandparents, for example, or when a favorite local business shuts its doors permanently or a beloved school tradition is shelved due to health concerns.
This effort to make a regular day a little more special is about more than a quick sugar infusion or an attempt to make up for the strangeness of the pandemic and the absence of the kinds of celebrations my kids and I are used to. It’s about recognizing that we don’t need a formal reason to rejoice, laugh and create happy memories. The simple fact of being together and healthy is no longer something I take for granted, and that alone seems worth an epic party.