OK, so turning 50 is kind of a biggerish deal. Apparently, a rite of passage beyond getting the prized AARP card. For me, reaching this age wasn’t really that monumental because, after all I’ve overcome in life, I’m just happy to be alive and well at this point. Turning 40 was the birthday that kicked me in the face, so I welcomed 50 with open arms.

Turning 50 during a pandemic when you are quarantined to your home is kind of a biggerish deal, too. But for reasons that have nothing to do with turning half a century, except for the moments they do. As the milestone birthday would have it, a bunch of plans were in place to celebrate.

Activities that quickly evaporated because of social distancing and shelter-at-home orders.

First, our entire family and my mother-in-law (who turned 80 a week before me) had tickets to see Lauren Daigle. That was canceled.

My husband and daughter spent months planning an elaborate surprise bash, complete with a party bus, gobs of food, and all my favorite humans. That was canceled.

My brother, who I only see a few times a year, was to fly in from out of town to surprise me. That was canceled.

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My boys who live out of town were still going to try and come home for my actual birthday, but it was safer for them to stay put. Having all my kids with me was canceled.

Finally, we were all booked for a family vacation to Boulder in May. Pulling this together when you have three grown children, including one who is engaged, is a challenge of its own. That was canceled.

For the most part, I handled the disappointment well. What can you do?

Clearly, I have plenty to be grateful for. Clearly, there are much more important, far-reaching, and scary implications in a global health and economic crisis. However, I did shed a few tears leading up to the biggerish day, mainly because of missing my boys, not getting to see my brother, and having to bid farewell to our family vacay.

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I don’t feel guilty about my sadness. We’ve all experienced loss and disappointment because of this pandemic, and our feelings are neither right nor wrong. They are simply real.

On the morning of my birthday, I actually showered, put makeup on, and wore real clothes instead of all-day pajamas. I figured I might as well get all dressed up even though I had no place to go. Feeling like a real human was a gift in itself. I had zero expectations for the day except being grateful to have my hubby and daughter with me.

What transpired after my home spa treatment is beyond anything I could have imagined. I walked out of our bedroom and saw a house covered in blown-up pictures of me from birth to the presenta sea of memories on all the walls and windows. Then, my husband served up a delicious breakfast with all my favorite foods. I was having a blast, and it was only 10:30 a.m.

Little did I know what was next . . . 

While scarfing down avocado toast, I saw friends start to appear in my back yard. One by one they made their way holding Happy 50th signs, balloons, toilet paper bouquets, baked goods, and presents, each standing six feet apart.

I was immediately undone.

Then they sang Happy Birthday.

I was more undone.

This crazy crew of beloved pals went out into the frigid, snowy weather to celebrate me with a show of incredible love. We air hugged and tapped elbows . . . oh, the heart bend of it all. Talk about making the best of things!

It’s incredible what we can do to love one another from a distance.

Social media has been jam-packed with similar feel-good celebrations and creative ways to connect.

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When I look back at this moment in time, these are the stories I will remember most. The unique ways people used their imagination to create a sense of togetherness:

  • Moms and dads bringing their new babies to the windows of nursing homes to meet their great-grandparents.
  • Musicians coming together on Zoom to sing worship music.
  • Firefighters arranging their trucks into the shape of a heart for healthcare workers to see outside hospital windows.
  • Neighbors in apartment complexes going out on their balconies to make music together.
  • Teachers lining up their cars in a parade and driving through their students’ neighborhoods, waving and honking hellos.

We never did these things before the pandemic. I pray hard that we continue to be creative and go above and beyond to continue sharing our love and appreciation after.

As for the rest of my birthday, the friend surprise was not the end of the festivities. Two kids wrote me songs and sang them to me, one in person and the other via FaceTime. A third kid wrote out a priceless and tender list of 50 adjectives to describe me. My hubby collected precious and treasured letters from 60+ friends and family and bound them in a book. And my daughter made a video slideshow of Shelby through the years.

There aren’t enough words to describe my 50th. What a milestone to remember, and I never left my house.

Shelby Spear

A self-described sappy soul whisperer, sarcasm aficionado, and love enthusiast, Shelby is a mom of 3 Millennials writing about motherhood and life from her empty nest. She is the co-author of the book, How Are You Feeling, Momma? (You don't need to say, "I'm fine.") , and you can find her stories in print at Guideposts, around the web at sites like Scary Mommy, Her View From Home, For Every Mom and on her blog shelbyspear.com.