Cassidy Gollmer was going to celebrate her fourth birthday on March 21 with a big party with all her friends at the Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre. Planning for the big day started months ago and everything was ready to go. Then COVID-19 happened.
As the crisis spread and public facilities closed, it became increasingly unlikely that the party would happen, and on Friday night, Niki Gollmer, Cassidy’s mother, had to deliver the bad news to her daughter after preparing her for it over the week.
“Trying to explain to a four year old that we have to cancel her party and tell her that she cannot see any of her friends is not easy,” said Gollmer.
Trying to make the best of a bad situation, Gollmer posted a message on the Facebook page connecting residents of her Thetis Heights neighbourhood. It told group members of Cassidy’s coming birthday and asked if anybody would be able to put up signs in their windows, wishing her a Happy Birthday. The appeal yielded five signs posted in windows around the neighbourhood. One resident, meanwhile, delivered her birthday wishes to Cassidy in the form of a giant message written in chalk, garnished with a gift of bubbles.
“She messaged me to say it was there, so we drove over to that street. We let Cassidy out of the car, and she was dancing around on the street,” she said.
This is four-year-old Cassidy Gollmer dancing after her parents showed her the birthday wishes that a neighbour had left behind Saturday. #COVID-19 had led to the cancellation of her birthday party, but Thetis Heights residents rallied to make sure Cassidy had a special day. pic.twitter.com/6uwVy6AEak
— Peninsula News (@PeninsulaNews) March 23, 2020
Gollmer also used social media to organize group video calls with some of Cassidy’s daycare friends, family friends and family members, so they could join — at least virtually — in her home, where she was celebrating with her parents, younger sister and grandfather. “Even her daycare [staff] had all joined on this group call to sing Happy Birthday, when she blew out her candles.”
News of Cassidy’s birthday reached the owner of Party Crashers, a local party supplier, who stopped by Cassidy’s house Sunday to deliver balloons.
Gollmer said the public’s response shocked and amazed her.
“It was heart-breaking for me to tell her [that her birthday was cancelled], and generally, these are just scary times,” she said. “So when people are doing these kind deeds, it warmed my heart,” said Gollmer. “It made Saturday just so much better for her. I just was scared to tell her party was cancelled, but so many of these little things that people did for her made such a difference. She actually told me at the end of the day, ‘that was the best birthday ever.’”
Countless other parents now find themselves in the same situation as COVID-19 continues, raising the question of what advice Gollmer would give to other parents.
“I try to be as honest as possible with her without giving in to fear,” she said. “I try to teach that it is not always about presents and big parties and stuff like that. It’s the little things, the kindess of strangers during hard times like this. We come together to do special things for each other.”