I turned 21 a few days ago, checking off one of the first milestones of adulthood. I’ve planned and celebrated my friends’ twenty-first birthdays this past year, and I’ve looked forward to my own and imagined how I’d like to spend it.
As it turns out, my birthday looked nothing like how I imagined it would a few weeks ago — I didn’t leave the house, much less go to a bar or to a store to purchase alcohol. But current circumstances made my friends’ and family’s dedication to creating a day of joy and celebration worth so much more.
I woke up to the smell of my mom making crepes — a family birthday tradition that I haven’t experienced since I left for college. Mom always makes the batter perfectly light and airy, and I can’t match her skills even if I tried to follow the recipe to a “T.” Instead of rushing off to class, I lingered in the kitchen and drank coffee with my parents and sister.
Later that evening I changed from my quarantine uniform — sweatpants and a sweatshirt — to the blouse and jeans I’d originally planned on wearing for a dinner out with friends. I figured that even if I couldn’t leave the house, I could at least look the part.
My mom fixed my favorite pasta dish that I can never cook quite right — do you sense a pattern here? Afterwards I blew out the candles on my dad’s famous cheesecake. I’ve never been a big fan of normal cake, and we figured this was a nontraditional twenty-first birthday, anyway.
The “party” kicked off with a Zoom call that included my mom’s entire side of the family — including aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins and cousins once or twice removed — there were so many I couldn’t keep track. Despite the small children screaming into their screens and the many technical difficulties as relatives used Zoom for the first time, they managed to produce a choppy performance of “Happy Birthday.” As I looked at my relatives’ faces in the grid of boxes, I realized I hadn’t seen or spoken with several in a long time, and we may have begun a new birthday tradition.
My parents were also more than happy to show off their bartending skills, and my mom whipped up a menu of drinks that I just had to have on my birthday. I have to admit that as I looked at my parents’ bar set-up, I realized that this was one of my few chances to get unlimited $15 drinks for free, so I definitely wasn’t unhappy about it.
My friends coordinated their own virtual party for me, and they tried to translate as many birthday events to Zoom as possible. It didn’t feel quite the same as having them next to me, but we still laughed until our stomachs hurt, caught up on each other’s lives and got to spend quality time with one another. Although I eventually checked the news again before bed and felt a sense of anxiety resettle as I read each headline, the weight was lifted for a few hours that evening.
My birthday felt special — not because of one big event, but from the combination of small, meaningful activities throughout the day. Having a plan for a fun day also gave me something to look forward to, and these activities broke up the long stretch of time defining how we’ve spent day after day at home.
These activities — cooking, catching up with family and dressing up for fun — are things that I can easily repeat in the weeks to come and make a big difference in improving my mood. Right before my birthday, Virginia was issued a stay at home order for the next two months. Two months can sound like an endless amount of time, so we’ll have to break it up and plan specific activities throughout the week to look forward to.
In some ways, it felt inappropriate to call for a celebration given the current state of the world, as well as the fear and difficulties that so many people are experiencing right now. But the elements that made up my birthday — staying at home and socially distancing, appreciating the small things like the company of friends and planning activities to look forward to — were necessary steps for how we contributed to controlling the spread of the virus and staying sane while quarantining. I plan on repeating these steps in the weeks to come, and I encourage you to do so, as well — in this case, I’d say that it’s appropriate to live each day like it’s your twenty-first birthday.