One beautiful afternoon last summer, my nephew sat by himself with a birthday hat and a kazoo. He was alone, aside from the very small handful of caring family members who RSVP’d to his birthday party and actually showed up. The kids in his 3rd-grade class, though? They were nowhere to be found. That’s right, not a single one of his classmates showed up to help him celebrate turning 9.
The poor kid sat there holding back tears and trying his best to enjoy the cake and ice cream and a few gifts from his family, but the look of rejection on his face was absolutely heart-shattering. As a mother, it was especially difficult for me to watch this go down and darn it if I wasn’t cursing a bunch of jerk parents in my head.
And yet, heartbreaking scenes like this one go down at birthday kids parties all too often. Sadly, it happened just last week to a 9-year-old named Ollie.
But in his case, Ollie’s dad Christopher wasn’t about to let the big day go on without celebration. On June 29, Christopher turned to Twitter to help his son ring in his 9th birthday in style, after his big day was shaping up to be one big downer. Under his Twitter handle @Hopenlesmyth, Ollie’s dad posted a special request that he originally didn’t think would receive much attention, but boy oh boy, was he wrong — much to his pleasant surprise.
In a series of two tweets, Christopher wrote:
“Strange request. Anyone know anyone famous/well known who could send Ollie a positive/9th birthday message [?]. The bully keeps saying to him that everything O has, he has bigger/better/more often. O excited for his birthday but keeps being told it won’t be as good as his own … I would be so grateful and I appreciate it is an odd request. Just would love someone to tell him he does mean something & bullying is not.”
Before long, the Twitterverse had swooped in, and Christopher’s feed was overflowing with shout-outs from not just random strangers, but also big-time celebs like Russell Crowe, who tweeted to the boy on June 29: “Hey Ollie, heard it was your birthday. 9 years old eh? Congratulations, Happy Birthday !!”
(How cool is that?!)
Even Eric Keyes, a well-known illustrator behind The Simpsons, tweeted a happy message of his own the same day:”Happy Birthday Ollie from a guy on @TheSimpsons who’s not quite famous but draws a kid who is =) I hope you have an AWESOME day!” he wrote.
BBC Sports presenter Jake Humphrey even left a really sweet video message for Ollie, saying. “Listen, Happy, Happy Birthday … and the only reason anything would ever say anything negative to you, and to bully you, is because they don’t feel very good themselves … Happy Birthday, and ignore the haters.”
He also got some shout-outs from a few other UK-based celebs — like British Olympian Tom Bosworth, BBC Meteorologist Matt Taylor, and Irish politician Colm Keaveney.
Of course, there were plenty of other non-celebs who chimed in, too.
“Just want to say a huge happy birthday, hope you have a great day,” wrote Twitter user @KateHawkins99. “No matter what anyone says you are an amazing person.
All told, Ollie’s dad’s tweet has received 15K retweets and 36K likes to date. But the best part of this story isn’t all the celebrity action happening in Ollie’s honor (though let’s be honest, that’s pretty damn cool) — it’s the amazing feeling that all the well-wishes are filling little Ollie with as he celebrates turning 9.
It’s no secret: When a child is given positive attention from others, it can do wonders for their self-esteem, so imagine all the damage that this one Twitter gift may have undone after being bullying.
Bullying is a serious problem in this country. Kids everywhere — across every socioeconomic landscape — are vulnerable to being bullied in a number of ways, thanks to social media. But it’s heartwarming and totally refreshing to see a parent reaching out to not only bring attention to the effects bullying can have, but also trying his best to make his child understand that he is special.
Happy birthday, Ollie — here’s hoping this year is the best one yet!