31 January 2005

Single...With Children: "The Son ALSO Rises"

Single With Children: All too soon, children make their way to adulthood

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 06/23/04

My son decided he wanted a last day of school cookout/pool party for about 20 of his best friends.

When he mentioned it a couple of weeks before the last day of school, it seemed like a nice idea. Even though Justin is the ripe old age of 17, it's still important to take advantage of opportunities to say "yes" without reserve. I quickly agreed.

The big day arrived and, much to Justin's satisfaction, I had things ready, chopped, diced and peeled. He iced down what must have been at least 60 cans of soda. Chairs were placed on the patio and, last but far from least, the CD player was primed and ready to blast.

The party was a hit.

No one was shy about eating, and I managed to scorch only two burgers, which pleased our dog to no end. Fortunately for me, Cassie has no problem eating profoundly charred hamburger.

As prearranged, after shutting down the grill, I stepped back into the house and pretended to focus my attention elsewhere. But I won't lie and say I didn't sneak a peek now and again.

I couldn't help but remember the first pool party Justin hosted, back when we were living in San Angelo and he was entertaining his preschool classmates. He was a little guy with wide blue eyes and an impish grin that always gave the impression that he was up to something. Usually he was.

Somewhere between preschool and 11th grade, things changed and the little boy grew up. Justin's latest posse was boisterous, loud and highly energetic, but for 17- and 18-year-olds, they were pretty well-behaved. In fact, there were only two occasions where I had to intervene and implore them to take the volume down a notch. They humored me and lowered the sound a few decibels.

After everyone had eaten their fill and the last back flip was negotiated off the side of the pool without anyone suffering a head injury, Justin saw his guests out and then walked into the living room where I was sitting with his 20-year-old sister.

He wore a look of satisfaction and felt things had gone ... swimmingly!

Before he turned to go upstairs and change out of his dripping clothes, he made what was, for me, the most unbelievable declaration of the day.

"Wow, I can't believe I'm actually a senior now!" Call me clueless, in denial or just plain crazy, but it hadn't actually dawned on me that my son is about to enter his last year of public school.

I was frozen at the thought, hoping there must be some mistake. Let's see, he's 17, he just completed the 11th grade, which was his third year in high school, and he was born in 1986. My GOSH, he was right!

I so wanted it to be a miscalculation. I want more growing-up years. I want more last days of school. I want at least three or four more before we approach the one that will find him coming of age, chronologically conferring his status as an adult.

I know he's ready.

I've watched him grow physically, emotionally and intellectually, and I am in awe of the person he has become. He may not be the most organized, most academically ambitious, career-minded young man in the world, but he certainly has one of the biggest hearts, and his behavior and actions imply that he has a pretty firm grasp of right, wrong and out of the question.

As we enjoy the summer before we embark upon his last year of school, I have found some solace. My son began his primary school years with two parents under the same roof. As he prepares for his last year in high school, he will be doing so with the same parents, but under two different roofs about 1,500 miles apart.

Given the expanse of time, geographical moves and one permanent parental relocation, he still smiles, he's got a healthy sense of humor and he's just as stubborn and determined as he has been since the day I met him in the delivery room. I loved him then. I love him 17 years more now.

From time to time I have wondered whether my son would be the same person had his fourth-grade year not included our divorce. Would he be different and, if so, in what way? Of course, I'll never be able to answer that question, and Justin has managed, amid my mistakes and blunders, to thrive, to find himself comfortable in his own skin, and he presents all of the signs of being well-adjusted. I can't imagine, nor would I want, my son to be any different from the person he is, even though he insists on sticking with the schedule and keeping that highly overrated date with adulthood.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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