Friday, November 14, 2008

You'll try and try, and one day you'll fly away from me . . .

Well, I knew this day would come. But that doesn't make it any easier to take. My youngest child, Curlyboy, turned 18 today. That is a huge milestone for him, one that he has been anticipating with excitement for some time. His Facebook page has had daily updates all week. I know he is excited to be stepping into adulthood.

But it's not that simple. I have tried to impart that little piece of wisdom to him, as has his dad, but, in keeping with one of God's little jokes on us all, an 18-year-old does NOT hear the words of wisdom, or if they hear, they dismiss with a roll of their eyes because, after all, they are invincible and all-knowing, and parents are . . . well . . . old. We've all been there, with our own parents. I also know that, around the age of 22, 23, something like that, a magical thing usually happens and we parents become wise again. It's like suddenly we KNOW stuff, and the things we told them all those many nagging days and nights actually make SENSE. And we just nod sagely and try not to say I TOLD YOU SO.

In the meantime, I know that I now have to prepare for the hardest thing of all. To let my baby boy go out into the world and learn the hard way, and have some hard knocks, and to balance on that fine tightrope of being there, having his back, but not rescuing or fixing problems that he needs to learn to deal with on his own.

I KNOW all these things, intellectually. But my heart, my very SOUL, wants to protect him from all the awful things that await in the world. I have experienced some of them myself, and I survived, but that doesn't make this any easier. He has led a pretty sheltered, easy life. Lifelong church attendance and meaningful involvement therein, two parents who are still married and in love and happy, many friends, many hobbies and activities enjoyed over the years, not rich or spoiled but certainly not doing without much that was desired. He's had a great life. And our hope is that he will have an even greater adulthood.

He has all the tools and character traits he needs for success (well, except for that procrastination gene - can't do anything but pray about that one). He's kind, compassionate, funny, gentle and tender when he needs to be, smart, talented, wise, level-headed, a great peacemaker, a good friend, handsome and never lacking for female companionship, especially friends that are girls, he will make an outstanding husband and father someday. He's an immensely talented musician who loves kids and wants to be a high school orchestra director.

But 18 is NOT a grownup, not in the sense that most 18-year-olds think it is. They are not prepared for leaving home, for all the responsibilities about to be thrust upon them in college, for financial decisions, for dating decisions without the oversight of parents to provide those bumpers. But then, is anyone ever prepared? Like, are we prepared to be parents? Not really, until we are, and then we figure it out as we go along, making mistakes and learning along the way.

So, on this momentous day of my youngest child's life, I just want to say that, in spite of all the mistakes I've made along the way, and there have been many, he's turned out pretty darned wonderful, if I may so brag. We have so, so many wonderful memories, and we will make more during this last year of high school, I've no doubt. The thing is, many parents can't wait for their kids to get out of the house, to be "free." But we actually LIKE to hang out with Curlyboy. He makes me laugh pretty much every day, and he's smart and good at intelligent conversation, and we have a lot of fun together. Movies are kind of our family "thing," and he and I share a love of several TV shows that we watch together. There are so many little things that we are going to miss terribly when he's off to college in another city (not too far away, but far enough). And he's already pulling away - independent, off with friends doing this or that much of the time. He still checks in with us, still keeps a reasonable curfew, still follows our rules. But every day that passes, we can see him growing up and away more and more. Just as it should be. As it's meant to be.

So, if all is as it should be, as it's meant to be, why is it so bittersweet?