Scarlet Letters

The not-so-private thoughts and rants of Elizabeth Donald, journalist/author and founder of the Literary Underworld.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Happy (17th!!) birthday to the Boy

It's that day again, the Epiphany in which I became a mom and boarded the rollercoaster.

I already wrote about how my Boy came into this world, and the requisite newborn picture, and a few years ago I did the Life of Boy photo slideshow on Facebook. What else can I say on the occasion of his birth, considering that he doesn't read blogs or Facebook because "that's for old people"? (What a mouth.)

I remember when I turned seventeen. It's got this misty fog all over it, because it was a long time ago in a galaxy far far away and there was about half as much of me and a whole lot more energy and brainpower. I'm pretty sure there's a picture somewhere...

My friends threw me a giant surprise party, and yes, it was a real surprise. The official plan was eating out at a restaurant with my family, but I was staying after school to donate blood. Yes, I was very excited that my seventeenth birthday fell on a blood drive day (NERD), because I was finally able to do so, and I gave blood then and as often as I was allowed going forward until my health problems barred me from donating in the future.

Thus I was about a pint low when my friend Cindy gave me a ride back home. I walked in the door and immediately smelled food. "Crap," I thought. "Mom forgot we're going out to eat. Maybe I can talk them into taking me out tomorrow?"

And I walked into my living room, where my family and all my friends - seemingly everyone I knew - yelled "Surprise!"

It really floored me, that this many people were there to celebrate with me. Seventeen was a good year, between the girlish insecurities of sixteen and the burgeoning responsibilities of eighteen.

Boy doesn't have a surprise party, alas. My parents had a co-conspirator in their plot: Jason Tippitt, who kindly coordinated the "friends" part even though I'd just broken up with him, and he gets major kudos all these millennia later for being so gracious, folks. Alas, I wouldn't even know where to start in hunting down Boy's nefarious cohorts for a surprise party.

Instead, we took him out this weekend: I gave him a list of Things To Do in St. Louis, and he picked the St. Louis Science Center followed by ice skating in Forest Park. I had to do the SLSC in a wheelchair (illness) and fell asleep a few times in the skate rink's waiting area, but he had a good time. Tonight there will be cake and presents, and he and I will go to his favorite restaurant (Jim has to work).

It doesn't seem like enough. Not because he expects a giant celebration or because he's a spoiled brat who wants more presents - in fact, he was willing to cancel the whole outing Saturday if I wasn't up to it. He's a good kid well on his way to being a good man, and if he makes me tear my hair out sometimes with the state of his room and his wildly uneven grades, that's part of being a teenager, I suppose. ADHD boys tend to be about two years younger in emotional maturity than those with normal brain patterns, and he's no exception.

But that's not it. It doesn't seem like enough because I have this whole sense of things coming to an end. I know it's a good thing; he's almost done cooking, and soon he's going to be an adult. Sometimes I look at this six-foot behemoth in my house, with a deep voice and an easy smile, and I wonder where the little boy went who used to climb into my lap and suck his two middle fingers during nighttime cuddle. I wonder if I did a good enough job raising him, if I made the right choices. If I had done this or that differently, would things be better for him?

Stephen King says that all children eventually turn in a mental report card on their parents, and I don't know if I made the grade or not. But I guess none of us really know. I just feel this cascade of "lasts," of things that won't happen again or that will happen differently in the future. It hit me on Christmas Eve, when I realized it was the last time I will have a child in the house for Christmas. (Next year it's his father's turn.) A friend of mine whose daughter is graduating this year says she's been crying at everything: last homecoming, last Christmas concert with the school orchestra, last this, last that.

Boy is still a junior, so all that's for next year. There will be the confirmation ceremony, and graduation, and all the attendant nonsense. There will be parties and celebrations and a lot of pictures. And we'll love it, because it's celebrating the Boy becoming a Man.

Being a mom is the best rollercoaster I ever rode. It's good for him to grow up and plan his future. It just feels like it went by much too fast.

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