Thoughts on the occasion of my son’s birthday

How did this happen so quickly?

My son …. my baby boy … will be turning 16 on February 7th. I’m sure every parent shakes their head from time to time and wonders how it’s possible that our children grow up so quickly. We say, “where does the time go” and “How is it possible?”

My older daughter chose not to have a Sweet 16 party, my younger daughter had a beautiful Sweet 16 the summer before the pandemic hit, but that’s just not a thing you do for a boy – even if we weren’t still dealing with a pandemic. I honestly can’t think of a single thing to give this beloved child for his birthday, even though I’ve been thinking about it for months. He’s very easy to please. Basically he has all he needs because his needs are simple and straightforward. The couple of things he wanted he got for Christmas just weeks ago.

My son is such a Good guy. He’s not a scholar, not an athlete, not a prodigy. He’s been known to throw a video game controller at the wall when frustrated about not getting to the next game level after multiple attempts. Sometimes he leaves towels on the bathroom floor, and at times he claims to have finished all his homework when he really didn’t.  For almost exactly half his life, his father has existed just as photographs and little video clips on my phone. Yet, I see in my son the kind spirit that his father embodied, and I hope that will do a lot to guide him as he continues to grow up.

Certainly not a unique situation

Birthdays, graduations and other milestones remind us what was in the past, what is no more, and what we will eventually lose. They bring life gone by front and center in our memories. Like watching some type of highlight reel, my mind clicks through memories of birthdays gone by and assorted other moments that my subconscious parental editor decides to add into the montage.

Since time began, people usually have children to raise them. In some cases there are nuances of reason, dynastic goals, surprise babies, or other unusual circumstance. But in today’s age, it’s more common that we have children to love, nurture, teach and protect. We want them to be good people with a good future, perhaps see ourselves reflected in them. Sometimes our children simultaneously validate our own existence and give us reason to live. Each birthday a child reaches is really a cause for happiness and gratitude.

My motherhood years when the kids were young were full of happiness, fear, pride, worry, laughter, tears, clarity, confusion, anxiety and a lot of love. As our kids almost imperceptibly morph into adults, we watch and wonder if we’ve done enough to prepare them to survive and thrive in the world.

Babies and little kids require more hands-on time – changing diapers and washing faces, teaching them numbers and alphabet letters, reading to them, baking treats with them, helping them make snowmen and courage them while they wrangle with shovels designed for adults. They change from sweet little ones struggling to write letters to Santa, into teenagers fulfilling letters to Santa for other kids.  Instead of losing sleep because we’re checking the crib every couple of hours to be sure they’re still breathing, we lose sleep worrying about what they’re doing with their friends.

It doesn’t get easier when they get older

My husband was a devoted father, enthusiastically dedicated to our kids. Yet, he didn’t get to see any of them become a teenager. Life has taken a lot from me, and multiple sclerosis has taken even more on top of that. But I’m still here. I still have the joy, the stress and the worry of watching it all unfold and offering them guidance along the way. It’s different from when they were little but that doesn’t mean it’s not as valuable.

The older children get the less you can protect them, and for me that’s one of the hardest things to deal with – watching them ignore advice and make their own occasionally bad decisions, and then not say “I told you” or “I warned you” or “You should have been more careful” or “Why didn’t you ask me?”.  It can be hard to have faith in them sometimes because that requires having faith in yourself – that you did a good job parenting them and preparing them for life. Even if you’ve been the greatest parent the world has ever seen, they’re going to make mistakes. All we can do is hope that those mistakes are manageable.

Still no plan for his birthday

I still don’t know when I’m going to give my son for his birthday. He requested a chocolate cake, and when I asked him what he’d like for his birthday he thought about it in minute and told me, “I’m good.” Well, that’s a small sentence and a big understatement. I know he meant that he doesn’t need anything and I shouldn’t worry about it at all because he’s content. To me though, he’s a good boy on the brink of becoming a good guy. He does what he can each day to help me, help his sisters, help our pets. He shuts off the lights in empty rooms, takes out the garbage, cleans up after the dogs, makes sure the house is locked up at night. He knows how to apologize with sincerity when he needs to, and now to try to make things right when he’s wrong.  He has a dry sense of humor, an inquisitive mind, and an empathetic heart.

Like he said, he’s good.

I think on any child’s birthday, they’re actually the gift to us, and anything we give them to commemorate the date is really a ‘thank you’ present. Yes, sometimes the gift a child embodies is sarcastic and rolls its eyes, baits you into an argument, tests the very limits of your patience, and stretches your very last nerve. But even on the ugliest of days, I remind myself how lucky I am to have them in my life.  Sometimes on those worst days it can be a struggle to convince myself that it’s true, but I think those are the most important time to do it.

Meanwhile, if anybody has any ideas about a good gift for a 16-year-old boy, please send me an email to frominhere@gmail,com.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on the occasion of my son’s birthday”

  1. Beautiful photos of your baby boy growing up. Happy 16th birthday to your handsome son! How proud you must feel to describe to the world what he’s like! He sounds like a real joy and will turn out to be a very much loved person. I’m sure he knows that he has the very best present he could ask for in having you as his loving mother.

  2. My daughter lost her father a few months ago. Her Birthday is on Feb 6th … She will be 14 on Saturday. I’m having a hard time making ends meet. If your son doesn’t want any presents maybe he can pass along his to my daughter. Hope he has a very nice Birthday!

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