The Best Birthday Present I Got This Year Was From a Total Stranger

On the same weekend my 1-year-old and I had birthdays, my husband was battling COVID. A complete stranger I spoke to for five minutes sent us a gift that made all the difference in the world.

woman in red dress smiling in field of sunflowers
Photo: Courtesy of Courtney Lacy

My husband opened the door of the bedroom, which had become his quarantine, to wheeze, "There's a delivery, and they're on their way up." John had just gotten home from the hospital after the first of what would be two visits for COVID-19. He interrupted my frenzy to clean the apartment that we had just moved into while I corralled our inquisitive daughter, Cora.

I looked at him thinking maybe he'd planned something, but there was no gleam in his eyes, only a deadpan glaze of illness.

I heard a knock and opened the door, and discovered a red box and a balloon with "Happy Birthday!" on it. Tears welled in my eyes as I picked it up and read the card. "Happy birthday to you and your daughter! Wishing you a wonderful day despite these difficult times. Paula."

Here's the thing: I'd never even met Paula. Paula was a woman I talked to for five minutes days earlier when she called for information on a document that my husband wasn't able to sign when he visited the emergency room where she worked.

father with oxygen smiling on couch with toddler daughter
John, at home on the mend, with 1-year-old daughter Cora. Courtesy of Courtney Lacy

She asked me if we were OK and I answered honestly, "We are healthy enough, but both my daughter and I are having birthdays this weekend and my husband has COVID." She listened as I expressed my intense worry and cried a few tears.

That month brought enormous challenges as John returned to the hospital for four days and was still on oxygen when he got back home. I will be forever grateful for friends and family who helped, but Paula's gesture of chocolate strawberries and that beautiful balloon, which stayed floating where my newly 1-year-old daughter could see it, represented how a simple act of kindness can make things OK, even if for a moment.

This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's December 2020 issue as "The Act of Kindness That Touched Our Family This Year: The Birthday Gift That Meant Everything." Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here

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