From Heartbreak to Happily Ever After: The Community Saves a Birthday
by Drew Holmes
“We invited my 5 year old’s entire class to her birthday party and not a single kid showed up. So if you’ve got kids and you’re hungry and have nothing to do we’ll be here at North Lake Park pavilion #3 for a couple more hours. We’ve got burgers and hot dogs going!”
I was picking up our weekly groceries when I read the post on a local Facebook group. My heart sank. This was every parent’s worst fear for their child’s birthday — no one coming to the party. My younger son, Sam, is 5 years old and he would be crushed.
Immediately I knew we had to go. The post was less than twenty minutes old, so if I hurried and picked up the boys, we would be there in time to help celebrate. I ran inside the store to get a small gift, then headed straight home.
“I want to do something impulsive,” I told Jamie when she greeted me at the door. I showed her the post and she agreed that we should help. “Boys, we’re going to a birthday party,” I called to Tim and Sam in the other room. “Get your shoes on!”
Less than an hour after the Facebook post, we were at the park pavilion. Gift bag in hand we met Marlowe, the little girl celebrating her birthday. Despite her invited guests not attending, she was beaming with the excitement that can only come from having just five birthdays.
“Thank you for coming,” said Marlowe’s mother, Nichole, as she greeted us. She was full of gratitude at the dozen or so people who had come to the party on such short notice. We milled about and introduced ourselves while the kids ran around and played.
None of us could have predicted what happened next.
Born on a national holiday, I had a similar experience for my 25th birthday. After two years in Florida, I had just moved back north and to celebrate I invited my college friends to my new apartment in the lower Hudson valley. There was a huge park across the street with grills for cooking out and since my birthday is July 4th, it only made sense to gather there.
Two weeks before the date, one by one they canceled. As I have now come to expect, family obligations and celebrations tend to rule the holiday, so my birthday took a back seat. With only a couple of friends still planning to attend, I decided not to have the party at all.
I remembered at age 25 how disappointed I felt not to have my friends with me on my birthday even with advance notice. For a girl of just 5 I could not imagine the devastation of across-the-board last-minute no-shows.
Over the next half hour, about a dozen more people trickled into the pavilion. Marlowe’s birthday was no longer a failure, and my boys were excitedly blowing bubbles from the Bluey party favor bag they were given. We sang Happy Birthday and cupcakes and slices of cake were served..
Then it happened.
First, about two dozen young teenagers came in a group. They had been at another pavilion in the park celebrating a birthday when they heard what had happened and came over to be a part of Marlowe’s festivities.
Shortly thereafter a contingent of police officers arrived with a stuffed animal gift for the birthday girl and police badge stickers for anyone who wanted one. With the growing throng of revelers, a second round of Happy Birthday was called for and sung. The police were preparing to leave when a young boy threw a football at an officer, which resulted in an impromptu game with the kids.
Then the firetruck pulled up. The firefighters also distributed stickers and gave tours of their heavy rescue vehicle to the kids, allowing them to not only explore the back but also sit in the driver’s seat.
While this was going on, an ambulance with a team of paramedics came. They also let the kids explore the vehicle and even took Marlowe’s heart rate, giving her the paper printout as a souvenir.
I discovered later that the original post was shared dozens of times and multiple community members contacted the city emergency services to let them know of the situation. The next night, Fox 31 Denver ran a story about the party.
In the end, what could have been a disaster was instead the celebration of a lifetime.
I’m proud not only of my boys but also of my city. I do not know why the original invitees were unable to attend, but I do know how important birthdays are to young children. I am honored to be part of a community that joined together and refused to allow Marlowe to be disappointed on her special day.