People like to see certain ages as milestones. As such, some birthdays are more significant than others. Multiples of five, odd numbers, every time a decade passes and your age ends with “0” or even an arbitrarily set number like 7 or 21 are those I’d mention at the top of my head. Each of the teenage years is seen as a milestone in itself, though 14 seems to be the least important of the lot and 19 the least remembered.

Now, among these, when does childhood end?

Most hotels consider 12 to be the final age one is counted as a child, as do the buffets my family used to eat at. Twelve is the last of the preteen years, it is also how old most first years in high school are.

And 12 happens to be the age I was when quarantine split my life into two parts.

The first half: the years pre-pandemic.

The announcement for quarantine came shortly before exams. We would stay home for a while, our teacher told us. Just up until the virus gets contained. That was all we understood. We flashed grins at our friends; we waved at everyone else. Little did we know that would be our final meeting. My friends and I rushed down the four floors of stairs of our school building, excited only to be home.

We barely said goodbye. I was on the edge of childhood when the pandemic took those last remnants in its cold palms.

Then comes the latter half of my life: the years during COVID. The changes blanketed me silently. It’s the little things. You never truly recognize them until they’re gone.

The months would run their course. From inside the confines of our home, their passing was marked only by the varying lengths of day and night. Sometimes the day was longer, sometimes the sun was out even when it was nearing six in the afternoon and the sky was a mix of orange and red.

I age without the experiences that tell me that time keeps gliding by. In the time that continues to briskly move past, I could have done more. I could have gone to family gatherings, could have traveled to the greenest areas of our country. I could have visited my friends. I could have gone swimming. I could have taken up other sports. There are too many things lost known only in the list of “could-have-beens.”

The year is 2021. I have heard other people leaving their houses. Workers, college students, people whose responsibilities require them to go out. Progress turned its gears while children stayed inside.

A nearby playground has a swing I will no longer fit when I try it next. Our closet brims with clothes I haven’t used, some of which I might give away before I ever wear them. There are things I’ve outgrown and memories never made in the years they should have been. And life goes on.

Today’s calendar shows it’s 2022, late June, early July. Recovery brings us glimpses of hope and things are starting to look brighter from here. But time hasn’t paused for us; the world never stopped moving even as I ceased to see it. Nothing had stayed still.

Today, I am close to reaching the milestone called 15. On one side of the coin, I am 14 years old, still fresh in the teenage phase with hardly any experience in life. On the other, I am already a high schooler set to graduate junior high in the upcoming year. Too old to be a kid, too young yet to make substantial contributions to society.

I am both at once. With the path of my life paused due to the spread of a virus outside anyone’s control, I wonder how moving forward will be.

There is a level of experience that growing requires. Generally, we are expected to know how to speak at a specific age, read at this age, and the number of skills deemed as necessities rises as the years we’ve been alive do. We gain a collection of knowledge as every year gifts us with new information that will help us in the long race of life.

Looking back on all my life experiences, the most significant of them happened at the ages of 10 to12.

When we talk about the pandemic, we mention how it affected our lives, those things we missed out on, the “what-could-have-beens.” The things that never got to be due to the time spent locked indoors. The people I could have met. What I never got to learn. Everything I should have done before two years passed.

Is 12 when childhood ends? If not 12, then 13, maybe even 14 … but once you hit the third multiple of five, another milestone is reached and most no longer consider you a “child.” Young, perhaps. A child? Not anymore.

Fifteen is creeping up swiftly on me. Growing up means letting go. It means fewer excuses for failures, it means more weight for the consequences of mistakes.

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