Turning 19 During Covid-19: All the Weirdness and Wisdom

Turning 19 During Covid-19: All the Weirdness and WisdomDear Daughter:

Happy birthday! You’re 19. And surprise—while the calendar confirms it’s the 21st century, current circumstances make it feel more like circa 1700s, what with all this sealing the castle gates, hiding out, and waiting for the pestilence to pass. Of course, today we are fortunate to have Zoom and Grubhub (not to mention indoor plumbing) in lockdown, making our quarantining seem a bit of a farce when compared with what our forebears endured. Be that as it may, this is no one’s version of what spring 2020 was intended to feel like.

But back to the point: You turned 19 in the year of COVID-19. Well done!

The good news, I suppose, is that unlike most everyone else who reaches and surpasses this particular birthday marker, you might actually remember your 19th birthday.

In normal times, I promise you, it would be the birthday you forgot once you blew out your candles.

It’s just the way it is. Speaking frankly, 19 is kind of a blah birthday on the scale of significance. No one gets fired up to help you celebrate your 19th (unless you’re Canadian and have reached the drinking age, but that’s another story in a different country). Sixteen is sweet, of course. Seventeen is a little better than 19 because you’re on the way to 18. Eighteen is kind of cool because it means you can vote and are considered an adult in the eyes of, well, exactly no one anymore (save perhaps the military in which you’re not enlisting), plus it’s the age you graduate high school and head off to college.

But then 19.

It’s the celebration of vanilla. So kinda-sorta-not-yetta. The milestone marker of now being too old to behave like a teenager and too young to get that CEO gig you have your eyes on.

It’s two long years from 21.

In a word, forgettable.

But thanks to a worldwide pandemic and the fact that you could go nowhere on your birthday, do nothing, and engage with only a treasured few safely ensconced at the house, how ironic that this is the birthday you are most likely to remember.

This is the birthday you will recall years from now when your own kids ask you about the COVID-19 crisis of 2020, just like you ask me what it was like living through the events of September 11, 2001, and I ask my parents about the days surrounding the Kennedy assassination and the moon landing.

And you know what? I’m grateful you’ll remember this birthday. Because it’s worth remembering. It’s worth recalling that while we couldn’t take you out to your favorite restaurant, we were able to make your favorite meal, and that it was a blessing to have those resources, the time to cook that meal, and the health to sit down and enjoy it together.

I’m so glad we decided to create a cake and frosting totally from scratch. Before COVID we relied on Betty Crocker or the Publix bakers, too busy and harried to even bother to imagine we might bake something of our own.

Who’d have thunk that coronavirus would have turned us into Crocker’s competition? But that’s where we are. Now, instead of breezing by the flour-sugar-cornstarch-baking powder aisle at Publix, I seek it out and have officially broken off all ties with my man Duncan Hines. (I’m done depending on you, Duncan. I can mix my own brownies, thank you very much!)

But back to you: I hope years from now, when you think about your 19th birthday, you’ll remember that crazy-good homemade cake. I hope when you think about being home and being isolated, your first memories won’t be of crisis but of comfort. I hope you’ll remember that Dad and I tried to put feet to our faith, that we gave no foothold to fear (or to cable news, for that matter).

I hope you’ll remember we gave away eggs and traded them for good stuff like homemade salsa, and recall the texts sent out and received from friends and neighbors when toilet paper was spotted on a supermarket shelf. I hope the memories of the many nights spent outside in front of the fire with stuff still left to say will burn brightly.

I hope you’ll remember as well what you lost. Compared with most others, you were richly blessed. Where others suffered, you were merely inconvenienced, but you now know, I pray, that life can change on a dime. Everything can stop. Things can get taken away. People you love can leave.

Most of all, my sweet girl, I hope this birthday taught you about gratitude. What a gift it is to be healthy and whole. What a treasure it is to have options and places to go and the freedom to get there.

COVID-19 has shown us it’s all a gift. Simply meeting a friend when and where you want is a blessing. When you get to do it again, embrace it and don’t take anything for granted.

I hope you’ll remember these were presents unexpectedly withheld on your 19th birthday and hold them as priceless treasures all the days of your life.

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