Happy Birthday, Mom!

Early on in the new realm of social distancing—some 30+ days ago now—I desired to make sense in the midst of chaos, to spend my time wisely (which, admittedly, seems to have taken on new meaning during this time), to understand others and the world during collective trauma and crisis.

In the first week, I enrolled in Yale’s online course The Science of Well-Being, promptly placed an Amazon order of a watercolor set and accompanying supplies to learn a new hobby, and ordered several books including Priya

Parker’s The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters.

As I waited on my orders to arrive, I viewed Parker’s TED Talk and began to think lots about creating meaningful connection. It felt a bit ironic, but mainly quite relevant in this new and uncertain time of limited interaction.

I found Parker’s work intriguing and helpful. Her TED Talk and book. While reading the book, I discovered Parker would be a guest on the March 27 TED Connects Series: How to create meaningful connections while apart. So, I tuned in. Finally, I found the Podcast “Together Apart” hosted by Priya Parker in partnership with the New York Times.

As I immersed myself in The Science of Well-Being, learned from Priya Parker, and tried to practice at least some creativity each day, I found myself pondering much.

A recurring thought was around “recreating” events and celebrations in our lives in intentional and meaningful ways. There are nine birthdays in my family during the month of April. Yes, nine. My dad, mom, and sister have birthdays all in the same week.

So, I set out on a mission for my mom’s birthday. With my sister and my aunt (who just so happens to be my mom’s twin) as accomplices, we sent texts, emails, Facebook messages, etc. to people from throughout my mom’s life. My request was simple: Please record a short video message wishing my mom a happy birthday; feel free to include your best Donna memory, a funny story, why she is special to you, or a wish for the coming year.

I have spent the last week receiving these messages via text and email. I have heard from her high school tennis coach, childhood friends and her college roommate, college friends she’s not often in touch with, colleagues, friends & family from near and far, and former students (she’s a teacher). As her daughter, it has been inspiring and incredible to collect these “gifts” and learn of her significant impact on many.

My mom’s 63rd birthday is this Friday, so today I’ll send a few reminders and spend the next few days compiling the videos into a birthday montage to gift my mom. For days, I worried there would not be an adequate way to possibly celebrate my mom’s birthday as we were socially distanced. She is one who is constantly giving, celebrating others, planning surprises and hosting, so I really wanted her day to be special.

Now, I find myself counting down the days until Friday…

To be honest, I would never have envisioned and created such a meaningful gift under “normal” circumstances. Likely, I would have purchased a gift and planned a small gathering at my house or out, done. But, in this time of uncertainty, I know this celebration and gift are sure to be special.

Then, last Wednesday, a new episode of the Together Apart podcast aired and I listened (And yes, if it’s not obvious, I really drank the Priya Parker Kool-Aid. In all seriousness, I find her work fascinating and compelling.). Parker opened the episode, “I don’t even know where we are in the tunnel, but can we create light wherever we are not just at the end of the tunnel?” My immediate thought, “Yes!” Her words resonated and gave meaning to something I had been feeling but struggling to articulate about this time of social distancing, especially as it relates to celebrating my mom’s birthday.

So, I leave you with a thought from Parker’s recent Opinion published in the New York Times:

It’s possible to make remote gathering a worthy competitor of traditional events. The bittersweet truth about all the gatherings and meetings and parties and conferences being canceled is that many of them would not have been particularly meaningful to begin with. And so if we are willing to bring to the time of Covid-19 a level of intention that we too rarely visit upon our regular gatherings, this heavy time could be leavened by the new rituals it created, the unlikely intimacies it fostered and the ways in which it revealed that convening people is a special privilege that ought never to be taken for granted.

(And—shhhhh, don’t tell my mom.)