Regina kids prepare for birthdays amid COVID-19 restrictions — again

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When seven-year-old Eric Mulholland Tomczak woke up on Tuesday March 16, he put on his Batman costume and attended a dance party — in his house, with his parents.

He got to keep the outfit on all day, including at school, from which he got picked up early. Then his family put on a Batman movie and even his little sister watched it. To top it off, they all had pizza and Batman-themed cake.

“He was just really happy. It was an awesome day,” said his relieved mother, who, for a second year running, had to cancel the small party she’d planned for him at the 25th hour due to uncertainty around the spread of the coronavirus.

Saskatchewan announced it’s first presumptive case of COVID-19 on March 12, 2020. And almost exactly one year later, Regina is now dealing with the rapid community transmission of variants of concern.

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While Tomczak said her son was a little disappointed both times, he has also been both grateful and understanding.

“Really, what our kids want is quality time with us,” she said. “They don’t need big extravagant parties with a million decorations. They just want us to sit down and be with them.”

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Haley Ryan agrees. Her oldest child recently celebrated a second pandemic birthday as well.

Knox Ryan’s ninth birthday was March 13. His parents rented out a movie theatre for just their immediate family of five.

For his little sister Lilah’s second pandemic birthday on May 1, they’re considering a virtual scavenger hunt, where friends unable to be there in person will drop off gifts and then video chat with her while she navigates the clues to find them.

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“It’s nothing like they’re used to,” Haley Ryan said of the heightened focus on family. “But I also have kind of looked at it as a way to make it so different and so cool and so special in a way that we wouldn’t do any other time.

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“They have loved their COVID birthdays, truly,” she said, adding she’s sure they’re also excited to have parties again when it’s safe to do so.

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Saskatoon-based child psychiatrist Tamara Hinz says it’s important for parents to acknowledge and validate their children’s emotions, including about cancelled parties.

She says that involving them when making alternative plans helps foster greater understanding as well as enthusiasm.

“As a mom and a mental health professional, I’ve never seen a child present in a horrible crisis because their loving family didn’t plan the perfect birthday party,” Hinz said. “I think the good news is that kids are resilient and I think it’s an opportunity to maybe take things back to basics.”

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