Yesterday my baby turned 21.
I’m still trying to let that fact sink in.
I think what I’m having the most trouble accepting (besides that fact that it’s making me feel old) is the way this birthday played out.
We discussed what he wanted for this big birthday a few weeks ago. I’ll be taking him shopping for a new suit when he’s home for spring break. Note: This request is less boring than it might seem. Our son loves to dress up (both as in playing “dress-up” and as in being a “sharp-dressed man”). So from his perspective, a new suit is a real treat rather than just a utilitarian necessity. From my perspective, giving him something he really wants AND getting to spend the day with him, shopping and having lunch, is a total win. So the big gift is taken care of.
We put a little package in the mail for him, just a fun thing for him to open on his special day. I texted him first thing with a birthday message.
All the boxes were checked. Birthday managed. Well done, Mom and Dad.
Except not really. Not in my heart of hearts.
Because this year things are noticeably different. Our boy has grown and matured over this year of being away at college until he’s almost unrecognizable. Not so much the goofy, happy-go-lucky kid and more the serious, thoughtful almost-adult.
A lot of that is down to his responsibilities as an R.A. Besides the extensive work load that comes with the job, he’s dealt with some pretty heavy situations over this past school year. Takes regular “mental health first aid” training and has needed to use it with the younger students on his floor more than once. Experienced the arrest and subsequent murder trial of one of his fellow R.A.’s, in a case that is sobering and heartbreaking.
It’s no wonder he’s changed over the course of this school year.
Then, too, he’s spending more and more time with his girlfriend. His attentions are firmly fixed in a direction that is not home.
So I’m dutifully playing the role of awesome mom. Deliberately choosing to recognize that all this is normal – quite good, even. Our son has become an even more amazing young man than ever. My role is diminishing, and that’s as it should be.
It’s great that he spent his birthday evening at a friend’s house, carefully planning his first foray in to the world of alcoholic beverages (and yes, I’m quite certain that’s actually true) in a safe setting. No time for a birthday phone call or FaceTime? No problem. Have a great time!
It’s great that when his father and I travel to his university tomorrow to take him out for a birthday dinner before his choral concert, getting to see him for the first time in a couple of months, his girlfriend will be joining us. She’s lovely! Glad to have her with us!
That’s the awesome mom side. The side that’s supportive, perfectly ready to let go, thoroughly mature and reasonable.
But there’s also the world-class liar side. The part of me that would give anything to re-live that evening 21 years ago when he was soft and warm and brand-new, when he fit perfectly in my cradling arms. The part of me that aches like crazy over letting go. The part I very carefully keep hidden away, because that’s what a mom should do when her babies are ready to move on.
I usually avoid speaking the truth about this one-of-a-kind pain. Because if you share it, some hearty, well-meaning soul is certain to come back with “Well, that’s what being a parent is all about – preparing them to take off on their own.” Or “But what is there to be sad about? You’ve done your job and now you can sit back and relax!” Yeah, I really hate those hearty, well-meaning souls.
Cuz right now all I’m feeling is the “liar” side.