This isn’t something I ever imagined would be happening. My daughter Jessica has been wishing it was her 18th birthday since she was about 6. Over the years she’s planned everything from going to Bora Bora with her best friend, to spending her birthday weekend in Amsterdam with her boyfriend. Sadly, neither of those, or any of the other things she wanted to do are possible right now. So I’ve been trying to come up with alternative ideas for planning an 18th birthday in lockdown during a pandemic. And it’s been surprisingly kind of easy.
My original plan was to take her for a Celebration Afternoon Tea with cake and Champagne at The Ritz in London on her actual birthday. Then have our family round for dinner, another cake and some more drinks. Then she was going to spend the weekend in Amsterdam with her boyfriend. I’d booked The Ritz way back in November, and was really looking forward to it. But, I was absolutely gutted to receive an email in March saying that The Ritz was closing temporarily for the first time in its history. Understandable, of course, but I’m still sad Jessica and I won’t get to experience that.
I know we could go for another birthday, but it won’t be the same as going on her 18th.
We’ve also had to knock the family party on the head, and of course she won’t be going to Amsterdam either. I’m actually quite upset for her. She lost her best friend suddenly in February, and although she has been dealing with her grief quite well, she had things to look forward to. I know she feels like a lot of things have been taken away from her now. So I really want to make her day as special as I can for her.
We’ve joked for years that she won’t have much to do on her 18th birthday. She’s done pretty much everything she should have waited for anyway. (Not with permission I should add). But facing the reality of not being able to do anything at all on her birthday is a bit crap. OK. A lot crap. Yes, I know that there are more important things in the world right now than somebody turning 18. But, as her best friend will sadly never reach that milestone, it is important to Jessica. So it’s important to me.
Plan of action
Having everybody at home, and not needing to do school runs, or run errands has freed up a lot of time which is nice. Especially when you’re trying to plan a surprise celebration. It’s times like this that I love the internet. Well, that and being able to go incognito on Google.
Whilst she’s asleep on her last night as a 17 year old (and as a child), I’m going to put Happy 18th birthday wrapping paper across her whole bedroom door so she has to break through it to get out of her room. Where she will be met by an epic display of balloons celebrating reaching 18. It might sound a bit silly, but as she can’t go anywhere to use her ID as is the normal rite of passage for a newly-turned 18 year old, this is kind of symbolic for leaving childhood behind and entering the wonderful (?!) world of adulthood.
I’ve ordered her birthday gifts online. And because I’m home every hour of every day, there’s no worries about her getting to a delivery before I do. She’s home all the time too of course, but she’s usually in her room with her AirBuds in, oblivious to what’s going on in the rest of the house. I don’t blame her. Her younger sisters are terrifyingly loud.
Again, I’ve ordered these online. One from each of us in the house. Which will be delivered to me in one plain envelope, so they can be stashed away without her knowing. I used Thortful because they have a great range of quirky, unusual and funny designs. And, as they say :
We are the UK’s first greeting card marketplace, built on a community of independent designers, illustrators and photographers who are the people behind our truly unique designs.
I love supporting small independent businesses, so Thortful are a great fit for me. Plus they have rude cards, and I love me a bit of sweary rude humour. Use this link to get 30% off their cards.
Scrolling through Facebook at the moment is actually quite nice. There’s a big push to support local businesses as they adapt to working in a no-contact way. I’m a member of a group that’s been set up specifically by local independent shops, who all offer no-contact local deliveries. I happened to come across a post by a lovely little business that I’d never heard of, in my local area. They do amazing things with balloons. And I can’t actually believe I’d never come across them before.
This was the photo that caught my eye. I’ve never seen a whole bouquet of flowers made from balloons before. So off I went onto their website, made contact with them through Messenger, and just a short while later had formulated a plan for a very different balloon display for Jessica’s birthday.
I decided that balloons were a better option for this teenager than flowers, because she’s not very good at not knocking over things full of liquid. Her birthday isn’t until the end of the month, so I can’t show you the finished display just yet. But there will be photos on Instagram once they’ve been delivered and set up.
My darling willowy beauty has decided she’s on a diet and therefore doesn’t want a birthday cake. But how can you possibly have an 18th birthday without cake? Aha. This is where hanging out on Pinterest helps! I came across this cake made entirely out of fruit. And I’m nothing if not adventurous. So I will be taking inspiration from this cake ⬇️ and making her something very similar and diet friendly.
Champagne Afternoon Tea
Well, we can’t go to The Ritz, but I can make our own version of their Champagne Afternoon Tea. I haven’t decided 100% on the menu just yet, but it will definitely involve miniature versions of her favourite foods and Champagne.
I’ll be able to get this all ready on the morning of her birthday, because she rarely wakes up before 11am now she has nowhere to be.
As the family can’t come to us physically, they’ll have to come to us through the power of the internet. I can mirror my phone screen on our TV which will make things easier. I’m planning to get everyone online at the same time to sing her Happy Birthday as we would do normally with me carrying in her cake lit with candles for her to blow out. It should work out OK. Even my 83 year old Nonna can work out video calling, so at least she’ll be able to join in and show us a close up of her chin whilst she sings.
Ending the day
I’m going to leave this up to Jessica to choose how we spend the rest of the day/evening. If she wants to drink Quarantini Martinis, she can, and if she wants to binge Hannah Montana on Disney+ we will. Hopefully she’ll want to do both, so I can largely drown out the annoyance of the show.
So, that’s my plan to make Jessica’s 18th birthday be as special as it can be during lockdown. Hopefully it will be one to remember, even if she can’t do all the things she wanted to do.
Unfortunately, despite all my meticulous planning, 2020 threw us yet another curveball. Jessica was really poorly the week before her birthday. As her main symptoms included a very high temperature and flu-like symptoms, the NHS online service advised us to self isolate for 14 days as it was likely she had Covid-19. 2 days before her birthday, she deteriorated to the point that no matter what we did we couldn’t get her temperature below 41°.
She was admitted into hospital where she tested negative for Covid-19. She was diagnosed with a severe kidney infection though, and needed intravenous medication for a few days.
So Jess actually spent her 18th birthday in a hospital bed. Weirdly enough, just across the corridor from the maternity suite she was born in. The lovely nurses decorated her room whilst she was sleeping, and gave her a card sighed by everyone on the ward and some presents. I cooked her her favourite meal and brought it in to hospital with her gifts and cards. And everybody else called her throughout the day to wish her a Happy 18th.
So neither the pre-lockdown plans or the lockdown plans went ahead, but we made the best out of a shitty situation. And we’ll just have to have a huge party for her 19th… if the restrictions are lifted that is!