I’ve been looking forward to March 20, 2020, over the last few months because it’s my son Ethan Wesley’s third birthday. Ethan’s started to have a better understanding of the world and that has made everything more fun recently. So we planned to throw him a big racecar and trucks themed birthday party this weekend to celebrate because those are his favorite things in the world.
“I can’t wait!! My… birf-day. I three!” he said when I reminded him the big day was approaching before bedtime last night. “PRESENTS. ME!” (We’re learning on being less selfish.)
Unfortunately, we had to cancel Ethan’s big birthday party a few weeks ago due to the COVID-19 outbreak. And we couldn’t attend the Capitals game on Friday, which we had gotten tickets for, to see Ethan’s namesake, Caps PA announcer Wes Johnson.
Despite these setbacks, we’ve tried our best to make things as normal as possible for Ethan while still practicing social distancing as the CDC recommends. We also got some incredible help from two of the most popular NASCAR drivers in the world, Denny Hamlin and Matt DiBenedetto, as well as first responders and Capitals fans to make Ethan’s third birthday very special.
Thursday night, Ashley, my wife, and I drove to my parent’s house (they are Ethan’s main babysitters) to open presents. Ethan is very close to Pap Pap and Ma. Both of my parents are almost 70-years-old now and my mother has had health problems due to Factor V Leiden – a rare genetic, blood-clotting disease. We decided to stay separated by my parents’ glass door to stay safe.
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Tonight we celebrated Ethan’s birthday a day early with Pap Pap and Ma. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, we all stayed separated by my parents’ glass doors the entire time. In some ways it was sad, but my parents are the most vulnerable to this virus, especially my mom, so these type of precautions are necessary. I’m just happy we still got to see them. And Ethan still had a great time. 😊
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On Friday morning, my brother Brandon and his wife Michelle came over to my house to give Ethan some gifts of their own. Ethan opened them in front of our window so they could see. They gave Ethan a Buzzy Lightyear suit and Mickey Mouse ears.
While these two birthday visits were sweet and softened the blow of having to cancel everything, I’ve felt heartbroken that I’ve had to pull Ethan away from getting to his loved ones, who are already isolated away from him, because he wants to give them hugs.
Ethan’s not old enough to understand what the coronavirus pandemic is and how much our country is struggling right now. He also isn’t old enough to know what social distancing is or how to apply it. What he is old enough to understand is racecars, firetrucks, police cars, and “truckens” (trucks). He’s also old enough to have a basic understanding of love.
So on Thursday, I sent out a tweet asking if my followers on Twitter could send or record Ethan a Happy Birthday message.
My son Ethan turns 3 on Friday. We had to cancel his birthday party due to the coronavirus pandemic. I was wondering if you guys could wish him Happy Birthday and record him some messages. He loves fire trucks, police cars, and race cars- especially "the mailman" @dennyhamlin. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/QAsEeVlWKO
— Ian Oland (@ianoland) March 19, 2020
I only expected a dozen RMNB readers, who follow our Capitals coverage religiously, to respond. Instead, we were overwhelmed with hundreds of kind messages. Ethan even got a “Happy Birthday” from NASCAR driver and three-time Daytona 500 winner (he won it this year on the final lap), Denny Hamlin. Hamlin drives for former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs.
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) March 20, 2020
“Hey, Ethan. Just wanted to say happy birthday,” Hamlin said. “Sorry your birthday party got cancelled, but hope you’re having a good time at home with your parents. Listen to everything that they say. So. Happy birthday and we’ll see you on the racetrack soon!”
Ethan’s taken to Hamlin, who’s sponsored by FedEx, because he and Pap Pap would sit by the living-room window most afternoons waiting for the “mailman” to arrive. When we watched our first NASCAR race together last year, Ethan screamed “MEE-MAN!… GO!” His favorite color is now purple.
Last summer we went to the Bristol night race in Nashville, TN – our first NASCAR race as a family. Hamlin ended up winning.
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A few months ago, I was watching a NASCAR race and Ethan came over to the couch and sat with me. When he saw @dennyhamlin’s FedEx car, he yelled “MEE MAN” (mailman) and rooted for him the entire race “GO! MEE MAN! Goooo!” So we bought Ethan some Denny Hamlin gear and a replica car and went to the Bristol Night Race. Ethan loved it. Ethan got to sign the start/finish line, tour the pits — thanks Uncle @ryanellisracing — and even got to meet Denny before the race. Denny even signed Ethan’s car. Later, that night, despite going a few laps down, the mailman came back and won. Ethan was so happy. The whole experience was incredible and I’m so grateful we could share it together.
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Ethan was so excited when I showed him Denny’s message. It was shocking. He asked us to send this video back.
— Ian Oland (@ianoland) March 21, 2020
The driver who finished second in that Bristol race, the wildly popular Matt DiBenedetto, sent Ethan a message, too. DiBenedetto drives for the Wood Brothers and sits ninth in points so far this season.
Happy birthday Ethan! pic.twitter.com/jsc9tgAWZv
— Matt DiBenedetto (@mattdracing) March 20, 2020
“Hey Ethan, it’s Matt DiBenedetto. Driver of the number 21 race car. I heard it’s your third birthday and you’re turning 3 and wanted to wish you a very happy birthday. I heard you’re a big fan of Denny Hamlin. Good one to pull for. Pull for us too, 21 car, and of course, our dog Brian. Happy birthday.”
Ethan has actually met Uncle Matt before when he was one-year-old at Ryan Ellis’s North Carolina wedding.
— Ian Oland (@ianoland) March 19, 2020
There were other incredible tweets. Station 23 in Rockville, MD wished Ethan Happy Birthday.
— FnnIV (@fnn_iv) March 20, 2020
So did Tyrone Collington Sr. of the Bladensburg Police Department in MD.
Happy Birthday Ethan from the Bladensburg Police Department! I hope you had a wonderful best birthday today!! pic.twitter.com/4pdX9VQA0J
— Tyrone Collington Sr (@collington_sr) March 20, 2020
Meredith V. from NBC Sports Washington shared this video of Ovi in a fire truck.
Happy Birthday Ethan!! Here’s Ovi in a fire truck 🚒 pic.twitter.com/pe1PIE2PgU
— Meredith (@Merebear28) March 19, 2020
Keelan Moxley — yes, that Keelan Moxley — recorded a message.
Happy birthday from Keelan pic.twitter.com/ETO71NS4Ha
— Andrew Moxley (@AndrewMoxley3) March 19, 2020
RMNB’s Rachel Cohen made this incredible illustration. Ethan’s love elephants because their names start with e just like his!
Happy Birthday, Ethan! Here's your fav animal, an elephant, dressed as The Mailman!!! 💜🧡 pic.twitter.com/pq7c8UYzg2
— ✨🌸🌵 Rachel🌵🌸✨ (@kat326) March 19, 2020
RMNB’s Elyse Bailey sent this over.
oh god pic.twitter.com/6pD86cJCEo
— anti-coronavirus elyse (@ElyseBee) March 19, 2020
Rebecca, of One More Page Books, shot this. We planned the Steve Dangle book signing together and is an amazing person.
Happy Birthday, Ethan!! I had to sing it super quietly, but I hope you have a fabulous birthday! 🚒🚨🎉 pic.twitter.com/DnEUMJkFIT
— ✨ Rebecca Speas #AbolishICE ✨ (@SpeasySpice) March 19, 2020
Cameron, who I met at the Dangle book signing, sent us this!
Happy birthday from your friends in NH!! Have a great day buddy! (Video cut at the end but there was finishing up saying enjoy being 3!) pic.twitter.com/Pv9gPCfQok
— Cameron Huftalen (@CamHuftalen) March 20, 2020
Sonora, this is so nice!
Happy birthday, Ethan! pic.twitter.com/deZCzyrDiU
— Sonora Taylor (@sonorawrites) March 19, 2020
Here’s a sampling of the rest. You can see the full thread here.
— caitlin. (@_caitlinsaid_) March 19, 2020
— CNJ Motorsport (@CNJMotorsport) March 20, 2020
happy happy birthday Ethan! i hope you have a great day filled with good food, fun activities, and lots and lots of time with family. i'm sending birthday wishes 🙂
ps. here's a picture of the fire trucks that i see driving around all the way up in canada! pic.twitter.com/hWiXXah3dl
— aspiring ebug (@BurkstrandReid) March 19, 2020
Happy 3rd Birthday Ethan – your day will still be special pic.twitter.com/hWiOL6Hxf2
— Rebecca Dudek (@rbok22) March 19, 2020
Happy birthday Ethan! pic.twitter.com/XcEx2fMVQ9
— Kerri Mulvey (@KerriMulvey) March 20, 2020
Happy Birthday, Ethan! Love from Canada 🇨🇦 🎂🥳🎉 pic.twitter.com/tsTkCYo79T
— Leanne (@1970Canuck) March 20, 2020
Happy Birthday, Ethan. This is a Rural Fire Service truck. The RFS is in New South Wales in Australia. We had bad fires here this year and the RFS are heroes! pic.twitter.com/3XDeNOvqy5
— Elmer 'Secret' Olson (@ElmerOlson) March 20, 2020
Happy birthday Ethan! Im sorry your party was cancelled…that really stinks. I dont have a fire truck, but here is a diecast replica I made of the Vactor I operate for work. Hope you like it! pic.twitter.com/0iEu45zuxh
— Bryan🇺🇸 (@Bryan_49Ford) March 20, 2020
Happy birthday! pic.twitter.com/Ka7W7mmnr0
— WizKids (@CapsCulture) March 20, 2020
Happy Birthday Ethan 🎂🎉 from Australia!🇦🇺 Sharing some pics of our awesome volunteer firefighters who fought the big fires we had here this past summer and some of the American firefighters who came to help them. Have a great day!🐨 pic.twitter.com/Wn0lYdMXFU
— Illawarra Flame (@IllawarraFlame) March 20, 2020
Happy birthday, Ethan! Turns out if you work at an airport they let you drive a police car and some pretty big fire trucks, too. Unfortunately, no race cars here though. Have a great day! Go Caps! pic.twitter.com/tI9F0jt38s
— Mike (@dacuzco) March 20, 2020
Happy Birthday Ethan! My B-Day was last Friday 3-13 and postponed celebration for now to! When you do get to have a party Ethan, have a time of your life with many more to come! Hope my Dale Jr NASCAR race car diecast collection puts a smile on your face! 🎂🎂🧏🏾 pic.twitter.com/NAmRNHctba
— Nate (@DaleJr88FanNate) March 20, 2020
Happy birthday Ethan, from Sydney Australia 😊🎂🥳🇦🇺 pic.twitter.com/LHoZ7K3Ytm
— gina_s876 (@ginaK876) March 20, 2020
Happy birthday little dude. Have a great day 🎂 pic.twitter.com/CBiVZUbDF9
— Gillian Morgan 👩🏼💻 (@gilly_morgan) March 20, 2020
Happy Birthday lil dude. It's my birthday today too so no party for me either 😭 but I still think we can both have a pretty awesome day. Cheers buddy
— Farmer (@shaunrossington) March 20, 2020
Happy birthday Ethan! From Benji pic.twitter.com/4JdCvWNJLw
— Obsessed Caps Fan (@juliejmoses) March 19, 2020
Happy birthday Ethan! Sorry you have to stay in this year but next year will be better!
How about a fire truck & police car parade to watch for fun! I don't think my trucks in this one but its a good one.https://t.co/ez6IwPfmsG
— Kristo Karl (@KarlKristo) March 19, 2020
Happy Birthday Ethan! Sorry for your birthday party! I’m a kid racing driver and I’ve missed my share of parties so I understand!
— 🇺🇸Alex Jacky Racing 🏁 (@alexjacky9) March 19, 2020
Yayyyy Ethan! Happy Birthday pal! Everyone’s partying! pic.twitter.com/T2OKdK7Vjp
— BullyBear (@BullyBear3) March 19, 2020
Happy Birthday Ethan! pic.twitter.com/0kmk7jiTUn
— Joe Haynes (@Fire_189) March 20, 2020
Happy birthday! pic.twitter.com/GqxP9n4aex
— Hina Ansari (@orangeyHina) March 19, 2020
Happy Birthday Ethan from Toronto, Canada ! pic.twitter.com/FEqtkqochb
— Les Williams (@leswilliams2) March 19, 2020
It’s all so sweet.
Thanks to everyone who took the time to make Ethan happy today. This whole social experiment reminded me that people are still indeed out there and their hearts are just as full as they’ve always been. We will get through this pandemic together. This article is an example of who we are: compassionate, loving people who pick others up when they’re down.
P.S. – Ethan, if you ever read this back when you’re older, I just want you to know how much I love you. You’re truly the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Thank you for being even more of a joy than I could have even imagined. You’re happy, fun, creative, inquisitive, and funny. I know there is so much looking forward for you in the future. <3 Daddy
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