The last time I saw my mum was 28 December 2019. She lives up in the Frozen North, and visits are usually planned some weeks in advance –we had one booked for a week in March, when the little one was due to take the stage in his big school play, but all of that was swept away with lockdown.
Amid the chaos and new rules and daily exercise and dust settling, my sister and I had a longer-term problem niggling away at the back of our minds: how to celebrate Mum’s big 70th birthday in July.
We’d had all sorts of possibilities in mind before this – big party, trip away, something momentous like a hot air balloon or helicopter ride – and none of our plans involved separate houses, and singing Happy Birthday by video call. And it’s just not possible to host a socially-distanced BBQ for someone who lives 4 hours away…so it was looking like Mum would be facing a big birthday alone.
But we were lucky. The bubbles for people living alone were created in June, and we could immediately plan for her to form a bubble with one of us, and stay overnight. We organised a gift that we hoped she would love – a print by a local North Yorkshire artist, Lucy Pittaway – and had some debate over where to send it, finally settling on our house. If for some reason she couldn’t make it, I could always send it up to her all gift-wrapped, and that way she wouldn’t immediately see the studio’s return address on the parcel!
Then, even more luck – the government lifted restrictions on two households gathering indoors. Our bubble with Mum turned us into one combined household, so we could now have my sister and her husband over for the day, whatever the weather. All we needed now was for Mum to travel down as planned, and we could give her a birthday – perhaps not on the scale we would have wanted, but something, with all of us.
But Mum had a problem with her car, and it couldn’t be fixed until the day of her birthday. The garage might be able to provide a courtesy car, but not until after 5pm the day before. We’d have to wait and see.
Which sent the planning into some turmoil. With her presence in doubt, what should I do with the presents? Should I start packing up the gifts so she’d have something to open? In spite of her protestations that it didn’t matter, my sister and I couldn’t bear the thought of her sitting alone on her 70th birthday with nothing special to celebrate.
No, she said – even if it meant arriving at midnight, she was determined to be with us before her birthday. We were on the edge or our seats for a text message, and at 6pm, it came – she was on her way, and by 10:30, she had arrived.
The next day, after a roast dinner (she hasn’t had one since Christmas), amazing cake baked by my sister, little surprises she wasn’t expecting, and maybe one or two glasses of prosecco, she texted us this after we’d all gone to bed:
“Thank you so much for all my wonderful presents and all the thought and love that has gone into them all. I’m actually overwhelmed my darlings by the fabulous day we have had altogether. Thank you for giving me the BEST birthday ever xxxxxx”
It wasn’t a big party. It wasn’t a momentous experience. But it turns out for my Mum, having been apart from us all since December, this was all it needed to be.