By Jackson Stoever
In our culture, turning 21 is a huge milestone and is considered an achievement for all adults. With the impending superpower of adulthood within my grasp, I will be able to (legally) fuel myself with alcohol and if questioned, whip out my junior operator’s license with a 17-year-old me on the front to prove that I am in fact, a big kid now.
With the COVID-19 restrictions in place on campus, I had prepared myself weeks before my birthday that it may not live up to the “hype” that a 21st birthday would normally have. I anticipated that my birthday would blend with every other day that has passed amidst the pandemic. I knew that I would be turning 21, but would it truly feel like I was? Don’t I need a massive celebration to accommodate for such a milestone?
Nevertheless, there I was on Thursday March 25 at 11:30 p.m. too excited to fall asleep. I had the same butterflies in my stomach that I have every year. You would think that after 20 birthdays I would be over it by now, but there is nothing like anticipation of turning a year older to get you all antsy. I laid awake, watching the time go by on my phone. In 30 minutes, I would be the first to congratulate myself on turning the infamous 21.
I did not make it to midnight.
I woke up the next day. March 26. My 21st birthday. The first few birthday texts had rolled in. Since God was holding onto my social media profiles for safe keeping during Lent, I had to leave the rest of the birthday wishes up to my imagination.
With my birthday residing during spring break each year, I was not accustomed to waking up early and groggily stumbling to my classes. Alas, just as I had survived 20 years of being me, I survived my weekly two-and-a-half-hour lecture on the bubonic plague.
Now that all that was out of the way, it was time for a birthday dinner of champions. Together, with a (small) party of seven, I made my way to my favorite restaurant, Texas Roadhouse. After patiently waiting in a very cramped car for our party to be called in, we were seated and given time to look over the menu. Within minutes, the waiter returned and asked for our selection of drinks.
This was the big moment. So many options were at my fingertips as I glanced through the menu at the brightly colored beverages. Without much thought, I settled for a “Kenny’s Cooler,” the most vibrant of the selection.
Part of me wants to say that I chose it for the contents, but the deciding factor was that it was blue.
When asked for a form of identification by the waiter, I proudly handed over my debit card. After a proper teasing from my table, I vocally proclaimed that I would get used to this process eventually.
Dinner was great. I felt the most “normal” since arriving on campus this year. At the end of the meal, in classic Texas Roadhouse fashion, the staff brought out a saddle, customary for all birthday celebrations. The concept of this saddle is simple. The birthday girl or boy hops up on the imaginary horse while the staff announces your birthday to the entire restaurant. From there, they proceed to make a big deal about the occasion as if it were your 21st birthday or something. The saddle was unusually comfortable.
With COVID precautions in effect, the party slowly dwindled in numbers after dinner and I eventually found myself back in my room at a reasonable hour.
Admittingly, there was not a bad thing to be said about the night that ensued. I had expected a lackluster birthday; one that was to be celebrated virtually or even by myself. Though the safety of myself and my friends was always a concern, I did not find myself worrying about such problems the entire night.
The party did not end there.
The next day, my parents and girlfriend met up with me for the second installment of my birthday celebration. Upon arrival, I was gifted with their presence, and a carload of gifts and a fair share of snacks for those long nights. It felt good to follow through on a request from my mom that she had asked of me the night before.
“Don’t be hungover,” she texted.
It did not take long until the celebrating continued with a family lunch at Ken’s Pizzeria on Church Street in Burlington. Afterwards, we walked the crowded streets of Burlington, window-shopping for the sake of spending more time together. I was surprised to see the amount of people in the streets that day. It was as if the world suddenly opened back up after its extended time away.
When it finally came time for them to head home, I realized that my 21st birthday had finally come to a close. Though prolonged over two days, it felt more like one long day to me.
Despite the circumstances, it was the best birthday ever. This was the big one. The one to remember. There was no need for a massive party for that day to be remembered. There was no reason to black out after a long townhouse excursion. Not only was there no reason, but I simply did not find it necessary. With all the hype that this milestone brings with it, I felt as though I owed it to everyone who has ever been in my shoes to celebrate harder than I had ever before.
The day came and went in a heartbeat and I was satisfied. I feel as though having such a landmark of a birthday amidst a global pandemic made me aware of what truly matters.