In my February In Good Faith column, I write about celebrating 21st birthdays amid a pandemic and the importance of marking milestones.
When I had recently turned 21, I went out to dinner with my mother. I remember the barely-legal-herself waitress coming over to our table, taking our drink orders, and demanding in full sincerity to see my mother’s ID. My mom met the waitress’s gaze, pointed at me, and proclaimed, “Here’s my ID — my 21-year-old son!” As I recall, the waitress slowly backed away and brought her a glass of Pinot Grigio.
I thought about this encounter recently as our youngest son, Zak, just turned 21. Now, I’m not sharing this because I’m way too young (in my mind) to have another child of legal drinking age. That’s another story. But Zak was our second child to hit this major milestone during Covid.
Because restrictions have eased, we were able to take him out to a bar for his first legal drink. Soon enough he ditched us to spend time with friends, but it was fun to recognize and mark this moment with him.
When our eldest son Ben hit the magic age in the midst of the lockdown, we made him sit out in the driveway and hold a “Honk I’m 21” sign. Since we live on Main Street, cars were plentiful, and I swear, I’ve rarely had more fun in my entire life, waving to cars and seeing and hearing the enthusiastic responses.
All of which is to say that marking milestones is important. We do this on birthdays, graduations, anniversaries and a host of other occasions that blend our lives with our calendars. We mark them partly out of obligation and adherence to social norms, but mostly out of love. We celebrate milestones because they mark the very fabric of our lives, and convey just how much we care about the person in question. Without milestones, we may simply overlook chances to celebrate one another in intentional ways. And that would diminish the relationships that matter the most.
This pandemic has disrupted many of our most cherished milestone traditions. Yet I love how we have collectively adapted over the past two years, even as we have pined for a return to the way we have long celebrated together. Speaking of which, will blowing out candles on a birthday cake go the way of bobbing for apples? In a post-Covid world, it’s certainly hard to imagine breathing all over a cake and then inviting people to have a piece.
But drive-by birthday celebrations, waving to grandma from outside the nursing home, and Zoom holiday gatherings have all been ways we adapted and found ways to mark milestones despite trying circumstances. Whenever we move into a post-pandemic world, I hope this time will help us to never again take these celebrations for granted. Few things in life are as important as recognizing and nurturing our life-giving relationships.
We’ve proven that we can do this when conditions are less than ideal. And while we may not be blowing germs all over birthday cakes anytime soon, I’m sure we’ll continue to discover new and creative ways to celebrate the most important people in our lives.
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