“Daddy, are we allowed to go to the party?” I could understand Brandon’s hesitancy as he asked us that question when we told him recently we were heading over to a friend’s birthday party. After over a year of Zoom birthday messages, drive-by birthday parades and lawn signs, we’re just not accustomed to this type of social interaction.

It’s the latest unexpected challenge we have experienced, like many others, parenting through a pandemic. We have spent so much time keeping our son apart from people and wearing a mask, and then trying to explain why those things needed to happen. Now we have to figure out the best way to explain to our toddler why things have changed again, and that it is safe to get together in person again.

Since Adam was still taking his nap when it was time to leave for the party, Sarah left with Brandon, and we were going to join them shortly after. And although he was excited to celebrate and talked the whole way over, when Brandon arrived, he was hesitant, taking his time to warm up and staying close to her leg, even though these friends were the same people he spends his days at school with during the week.

Adam and I got to the party a little later, and looking around at everyone else, I began to notice that my son wasn’t the only child who was taking their time getting used to the idea of everyone being together. Nor was he the only one holding close to their parents’ legs. Sarah kept reminding Brandon, “It’s okay. These are your classmates. Your friends. Daddy and I are right here. You are safe.” But Brandon just looked up quizzically as though it was a test.

Slowly though, Brandon and his friends began to warm to the idea this was truly an acceptable thing to do, and the leg grips started to fall away. The kids got more comfortable with each other and the situation, forgetting their previous fears and concerns and got back to being kids. They simply started having fun with each other. By the end of the party, they were all together, taking pictures and getting favors with big smiles on their faces. It was easy to see everyone had a good time. Brandon even turned to me and said, “Daddy, I don’t want to leave yet. Can we stay and play longer?”

For our little guy Adam, he was just curious to see all of the people in one place at the same time. He just kept looking around and taking it all in. The more I watched his big eyes, the more I realized he hadn’t been in a group setting of that size since he was born. Adam was perfectly content to watch everything going on around him, especially the older kids playing.

And it wasn’t just the kids feeling a little uneasy in a social setting, I think the parents felt it too. Although many of us have communicated through text messages or seen each other at drive-by birthday parades, we haven’t been together with our children in a social setting and able to catch up until recently.

After the party ended and we were back at home, Sarah and I were talking about the afternoon and the most descriptive word we came up with was simply “nice.” Truthfully, it was just so pleasant and nice, and felt like the most normal thing we have done in quite a while. We were all in one space at one time with our kids. Sure, there was discipline and chaos and kids and messy faces and craziness. But there were also smiles and laughter and jokes and, I’m pretty sure, a sense of relief.

During bedtime that night, I realized Brandon felt that way too. I asked him what his favorite part of the day had been, and he responded, “Playing with my friends at the party and having their Mommys and Daddys there too.” It made me feel so good to know that he was able to overcome his initial fear and have such a good time. I guess we have started our journey back to whatever normal is.

Read more Making Time here.
July 2021
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