Eighteen years ago tonight I went on a walk. It was hot, but then again, everything was hot just then. I was nine months pregnant with my first child. My husband (at the time) and I walked and I stopped every few minutes to grip his shoulder and breathe through a contraction. The other walkers passing us on the trail looked deeply concerned.
But they didn't have to worry, because it was just the pre-labor work of being impossibly pregnant. We arrived home to find my parents there. They'd planned to come up from New Mexico in a few days, closer to my actual due date, but Mom had gotten part way through her day at work and switched off her computer, drove home, and announced to Dad, "We're going to Denver." Dad's no fool, so they went.
That night I slept well, until the early hours of the morning, when I had a vivid dream. I was riding a motorcycle, speeding faster and faster. I felt more and more endangered as I flew around bends. I came around a sharp curve, and as I leaned into it, I thought, "I can't do this. It's too much."
On that, I woke. And felt the gush of my water breaking.
That was, of course, Tre's birthday. Eighteen. I know I joke about this, about not being ready for my kids to grow up, but I have to confess an actual panic. All week long I've been counting down the days until The Day, as though there were some way I could make it stop.
It's not that I don't want eighteen-year-old Tre. He's such a fine young man. He's been working a summer job, and now he's gearing up to return to school, and there's so much possibility in his world. Last school year was very very hard, and he rose above it. He took two AP classes, and I had no idea how brutal they would be. One of his teachers urged me not to be too hard on him if he didn't pass the AP Physics test, because lots of kids don't. He put so much time and effort into Physics that he didn't have quite as much time as he would have liked to spend on studying for the US History test. I hoped and hoped that he would at least pass Physics, because that's the one that matters to him most. I cannot tell you how many hours I spent awake in the night, wanting it all to be okay. In the end, he passed both of them, and I was blown away and reminded of how little of this is in my hands.
That's the scary thing about eighteen. It's really his life now. There are so many huge choices ahead of him, and my job is to...not make them. It seems to be a full time job for me, some days. It feels like it's all I can do.
All I want is for him to be okay, all the time. I'm told that's not something I get. All these eighteen years, I haven't been able to keep him from hurt. He's cried, he's bled, he's learned to take loss like a man. If I had my way, I would have kept him a wide-eyed child who thought the world revolved around him. My failure has enabled him to be burnished.
This whole time, I suppose, my efforts to manage his life have been meaningless accessorizing, as he trudged along into his future. I have little control now, over this legal adult, but the truth is I never did. I wasn't driving, I was along for the ride.
I was talking to my cousin the other day, about Tre's birthday. We're having a big family dinner, as usual, and then he's leaving to go bowling with his friends, which frankly stings just a little.
"I keep assuring myself that this is fine," I told her, "that it's perfectly normal."
"It's not only normal," she said, "it's actually a little abnormal that he's having dinner with us all."
I was taken aback by this. Really? We're already there? Because dinner with the family seems like the obvious choice. He's already just indulging me?
I miss him. But I miss a thousand ages of him, from the slick, floppy newborn they handed me eighteen years ago, to the broad-shouldered young man he is today. It seems like he was just here...
But no, he's off. Through the hazardous conditions ahead and into the joy. Happy birthday, son.