Milestones in a Mask: Seventeen in Quarantine

Katie Maier

When I turned sixteen, I’m not even sure that I knew the full definition of the word “quarantine"... I probably couldn’t have told you what a pandemic is. 




“Sweet Seventeen in Quarantine” read the t-shirt my mom gave me as a seventeenth birthday present. On my sixteenth birthday, any gift referencing a form of disease prevention would have been not only unconventional but also downright confusing. This year, it fit the occasion quite perfectly. 

It’s disorienting to look back to the beginning of 2020 and realize how much has changed since then. But looking back to where I was on my sixteenth birthday, and thinking about everything that I expected my sixteen-year-old life to be, I am truly mystified. 

When I turned sixteen, I’m not even sure that I knew the full definition of the word “quarantine,” one of the words that has become everyday vocabulary in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis. I probably couldn’t have told you what a pandemic is. 

Teenagers tend to learn a lot from birthday to birthday, through school and through life in general, but I personally think that I, along with every other teenager in 2020, have learned a lot more from being sixteen than most people do. I learned about social distancing, and flattening the curve, and wearing a mask.

When it came to my birthday itself, I learned that milestones don’t need to be marked by some momentous and people-filled occasion. Maybe it would be more exciting this way, but 2020 is certainly not the time to be gathering in a mass of germ-ridden teenagers. So I had to take a much simpler approach. 

Just like the aforementioned t-shirt implies, I pretty much spent my seventeenth in quarantine. I went to school on Google Meets, talked to extended family members over the phone, and met a friend for a socially-distanced dinner. I received a quarantine-themed shirt and a sparkly mask as presents, and I loved both of the gifts, even though I wouldn’t have understood them last year. 

In September of 2019, I had no clue that this year had a lot more in store for me than a drivers’ license and another grade in high school. That I would actually spend half of the year isolated in my house. That I would avoid human interaction when at all possible. That I would wear a mask over half of my face. That all these changes would become normal to me. 

This brings me back to the moment on the morning of my birthday, when I opened up that t-shirt with the words “Sweet Seventeen in Quarantine.” On my sixteenth birthday, the idea of quarantine was foreign to me. On my eighteenth birthday, the idea of quarantine will hopefully be foreign to me once again, or at the very least something relegated to the past. But while I’m seventeen and in quarantine, I’ll have to make the most of the things I have to celebrate. 
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