So many mundane habits, routines, and occurrences have changed due to pandemic situations that few (not considering, in this light discussion, the many serious ones) stand out as noteworthy anymore. 

Perhaps, like me, you have more than once looked around for your mask only to realize you’re wearing it. This week I went to the dentist (welcome back, Doc K. and crew, after months shut down), and after the hygienist tilted my chair back she suggested it would be easier to proceed if I removed the mask. 

Some things are so minor and happen so infrequently that now, when they don’t, you don’t mind. Last week I went to the auto supply store for motor oil and antifreeze in preparation for a road trip (a rarity in itself: I haven’t left Ithaca, nor even been on a highway, since the pandemic began), and when I paid in cash, the clerk said he didn’t have the right coins to make change. I said it was okay as long as he had the right bills. 

But there’s something you do only once a year, max (i.e., if you do it at all), but now you can’t and might mind, or at least note: blowing out the candles on your birthday cake.   

It’s a childish practice, when you think about it, but actually that’s a reason to miss it. Many silly things we do as kids (jumping in puddles, skipping, pushing friends into bushes) we give up fairly early as adults, at least when sober. But blowing out birthday candles persists. 

The odds are roughly even that you have had your first pandemic birthday already. Mine comes this week, which is maybe why this topic comes to mind.

Ordinarily I would go to my favorite Ithaca restaurant, where I have gone for maybe a dozen birthdays over the years, and maybe six dozen times beyond that. 

I might in fact go this week, but it might be a little dismal. It will at least be different. When the place first reopened two months or so ago I tried to go with a group of six, but it was too many people for restricted seating. Any party, even a birthday party, has to be small these days. 

I will miss the extended company and the hugs and kisses, which are missed generally in these viral times, but most lamentably on special occasions. 

On the logistical side I guess I will miss the preprandial drink at the bar, a nicety I don’t indulge in regularly, but do annually on my birthday, to celebrate life, good fortune, and my mother’s labor(s). 

My mother occasionally drank a gin and tonic, so that’s what I have, in her honor: also, as a traditionally warm-weather drink, to mark the changing of seasons once my birthday rolls around.   

One can make a gin and tonic at home, of course, but it’s not the same as at one’s favorite joint, mixed by a skilled specialist amidst a cheery crowd. I like the touches of a cocktail napkin and a tumbler heavier than any glass in my cabinet. The ice is different, too: professional ice, in odd, chunky sizes.

Back to those candles and kids: it’s hard to imagine children growing up without this birthday component. Something will have to take its place, or else how does one make a wish?

It’s an important question, as there’s much to wish for, even if just a return to the normalcy adults remember and kids might not know, at least for a while. 

Maybe we will have “new normals,” as the (new) usage has it, and who knows what that might mean, but the most important aspects will be health and safety.

And back to car trips: this week I exited Ithaca for the first time in seven months, for a family event where I met someone new, a daughter born to a nephew of mine and his wife in April, toward the start of the pandemic, but enough into it to matter.

The fact that she arrived safely in a largely locked-down hospital, and (with her mother) got out without incident, is as important a wish as one could hope to have fulfilled.

A typical birthday wish this year might simply be that one survives and thrives as best one can, along with all friends and loved ones.

Every day is someone’s birthday, and a rough estimate for Tompkins County is that there are 300 birthdays a day. That means there are plenty of good wishes to share.    

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