21 Marks the End of Happy Birthdays

It’s funny how, at this age, a few months can make all the difference. They will now be my “cooler older friends” who do cooler older things. I might as well frolic around in the ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese’s for how young I feel. Although at the moment I’m continually cursing myself for not being born a few months earlier, I’m actually wary of crossing this final hurdle because 21 is, scarily enough, the beginning of the rest of your adult life.

This feeling of status-switching from top to bottom is a continuous cycle: As a sixth-grader, you’re the “big fish” to all those in the grades below you — and then you enter middle school with confidence, only to be sneered at by the big, bad eighth-graders. The same process happens throughout high school and college. This time, moving up will be breaking the last barrier. Everyone over 21 is on the same playing field, because we can all legally do everything we’ve always seen the adults on TV do. You can drink, you can gamble and most importantly, you don’t have to cross over to TJ to go to a club that’s not Belo.

Up until 21, every birthday is a goal. You celebrate entering double digits at 10, smelling like teen spirit at 13, legally being able to crash your parents’ car at sweet 16, earning the right to make uninformed decisions on government at 18 and, finally, at 21 being able to legally drink what most college students have been drinking since freshman year. Reaching a birthday simply served to initiate a countdown to the next one, just like how children think of months in terms of their proximity to Christmas.

After 21, birthdays lose their momentous significance — cue a long line of uneventful, even dreaded cake days. “I can’t wait to be 30!” said no one, ever. I’ll probably be like Rachel from “Friends,” who, upon turning 30, frantically declared to everyone that she was still technically 29 in Guam.

Of course, upon reaching every iconic age, you’re required to engage in an age-defining activity just because you can. Many could care less about politics and current events, but nevertheless rush to the polls when they turn 18 to assert their newfound activist voices. I tried a little too hard for my 18th-birthday’s rite of passage. A couple friends and I relished our adulthood by going to the local Walgreens, buying a couple packs of Marlboro Reds (although the cashier scanning our drivers’ licenses gave us miniature heart attacks), and using the cigarettes to build a Lincoln Log-style house. How cute, I know.

The doors open wide at 21. I won’t know what to do first. Maybe, for tradition’s sake, I’ll go out and buy a few six-packs to make a beer-amid.