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A good way to celebrate a birthday during a pandemic

Before Covid-19, my friends and I would have sleepovers, play games galore, and plan exciting birthday parties. At one of my birthday parties, we choreographed and danced to a song. On another birthday, we made fashionable outfits out of duct tape and newspaper and sashayed around in high couture. But since the pandemic struck, so many lives have been tragically lost. Now, we are limited in our ability to socialize and celebrate birthdays. My friends, cousins and I cannot sleep over at each other’s houses, eat scrumptious birthday cakes together, braid each other’s hair, or whisper secrets into each other’s ears!

At first, we didn’t know how to react and stayed at home. Then, we adapted to the harsh reality of the situation and got COVID creative! We started playing competitive, socially-distant games like hide and seek, went biking together and more. My cousin came up with an imaginative way to safely celebrate her birthday together on a scavenger hunt on the National Mall!

Maya Fritz

Teen Essayist: Maya Elianna Fritz is a 12-year-old student at the Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School in Washington, D.C. Image by Courtesy of Maya Fritz

I masked-up and arrived at the designated meeting spot. Her friends and I were divided into two teams. Each team was given the same clues and a map. Phones were not allowed for answering clues. We had two hours and, once the timer was set, my team burst off, giggling, ready to begin our quest! We decided to start with the clue that was nearest to us. We had to count the horses on the Smithsonian carousel and take a picture of it. The other team had decided to start there too so it was a silly arithmetic race to count all the horses!

Then we raced off to the next clue at the Hirschhorn Sculpture Garden. The challenge was to find the work of the wife of one of The Beatles. My cousin remembered her name: Yoko Ono! We rushed off to find her work! We ran through the maze of sculptures, and I finally found it: The Wish Tree for Washington, where visitors are invited to whisper their wishes to the tree. Out of breath, we huffed and puffed our way through the Yellow Submarine. I whispered my wish to the tree for peace and a cure for coronavirus.

Time flew by as we ran around the Mall, delighting in our ability to solve the clues together. Things took a more somber turn at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial where the challenge was to find the dog tags in the sculpture of the Three Soldiers. We stopped at the wall with the fallen soldiers’ names inscribed on it and realized how many Americans died in the war. An old veteran was speaking to a small crowd next to the wall, and we went over to listen to him. He spoke of fighting in the Vietnam War and explained how, like many other soldiers, he returned to the United States wounded both emotionally and physically, from the battlefield. He showed us his battle scars and told us that he still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, and is now one of the many homeless veterans in the U.S. We thanked him for sharing his story and continued on our way in a more reflective mood.

We finished all the tasks, summoned our strength, and ran to get to the Lincoln Memorial by 2 p.m. We made it before the other group! Although neither group had completed every task correctly, our group had solved almost every mystery, making us the winners. In the end, everyone ate birthday brownies and all laughed about the exciting hunt. I was very happy to win but mostly was thankful for the opportunity to be with my cousin and her friends and have a fun adventure with them.

This was such an extraordinary party because not only was it a joyous celebration, but in a way, it was more meaningful than most pre-Covid birthday parties. At this party, I learned history as I re-explored the National Mall, and I heard a Vietnam Vet speak about the horrible effects of war and the plight of veterans. I realize that Coronavirus has already taken many more American lives than were lost in the Vietnam War.

Though I’m still not allowed to hug or sleepover with my cousins and friends, these restrictions have helped me realize that no matter if I’m 6 feet or 600 miles apart from them, our friendship will always overcome the distance. I’m very grateful for this opportunity and know that my friends and family will create new ways to safely play together until Coronavirus is gone. With the new vaccines being made, I hope all kids will regain the freedom to play with their friends without masks, and treasure the closeness we have lost for so long!

Maya Elianna Fritz is a 12-year-old student at the Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School in Washington, D.C.

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