31 January 2005

Single...With Children: With Age Comes Reponsibilities

Single With Children: With age come privileges and responsibilities

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 12/08/04

It does not require being a parent, single or otherwise, to understand the very true adage that the only constant in life is change.

It can be painful, welcome, exciting, terrifying, challenging and it can be all of those things and more at the same time, but it most certainly is unavoidable.

My son turned 18 a couple of weeks ago. Honestly, I was never likely to forget this milestone, but he has generously reminded me, since he turned 17, that his next birthday would be his 18th. I sometimes wondered if it might have slipped his mind that we had both met up in the same delivery room at Northwest Texas Hospital back on Nov. 21, 1986, two days after he hinted at his arrival with some fierce back labor pains.

In the month leading up to this big day, the reminders became more frequent. I heard the same glib remarks parents have historically heard during this most auspicious occasion; "Mom, would you stop asking me to clean my room already? I'm almost 18!"

"Of course I did my homework, I'm practically 18!"

There was the predictable crescendo. Expectations were high and still rising. I was told that soon he would not need to trouble me for my permission should he choose to get a tattoo or anything pierced. Turns out he will be eligible to vote in the next election and, technically, he was legally an adult with all of those wonderful rewards and responsibilities those of us who have marked this milestone have come to enjoy or endure, depending on your perspective.

There was magic in the air Nov. 21, and it wasn't because Thanksgiving was only four days away. It was "the day." "The big one." The birthday that would eclipse all other birthdays.

The day dawned sunny, albeit a little chilly. The birthday boy woke up, opened his cards containing the present he coveted most; cold, hard cash. He tooled around in his car with his friends for a few hours and then met up with us at his choice of restaurants for a nice celebratory dinner. We made our iced tea (and Dr Pepper) toasts and recounted some of the highlights of the past 18 years.

We returned home to open up the very large chocolate chip cookie Justin has always favored over a birthday cake, but it would seem that everyone had scattered, and I soon realized it was just me staring down at a sphere containing about a million calories. The sugar rush would be sweet, but I'd never be able to look at myself in the mirror come morning.

And that was it. Gifts. Dinner. Birthday cookie (uncut).

The next afternoon when Justin zoomed in from school, he was a little surprised to discover that the U.S. government also had noticed he had just celebrated a birthday and had taken the opportunity to send him a card, only it wasn't a colorful "happy birthday" Hallmark. Uncle Sam sent my son a notice that would require him to register with the Selective Service. Ah, membership in this elusive "adult" club does not always have its perks.

This 18th birthday business has turned out to be a dual rite of passage. My son has become a man, legally speaking, and I have become the mother of one. We are both trying to make our adjustments, and I would like to think we are attempting to be as gentle with each other as possible. Time ... takes time.

It's occasions like this that always leave me wishing I had some incredibly profound piece of wisdom to share with this new man in the house. I always wonder what Fred Rogers would say. It occurs to me that in the time it might take me to compose something remotely sage that might change my son's life, he could easily be celebrating his 35th birthday, and whatever I might come up with would have lost its significance.

Being the unreasonable Mom that I am, along with his birthday card, I had to include a little reality check because, if nothing else, being an adult is all about reality. Though my son may be 18, I'm a whopping 44 and, along with graciously providing such essentials as food, clothing and shelter, one adult to another, I am taking the liberty of enforcing pesky requirements such as homework completion, a few simple chores and limiting vehicle access, just to name a few. I am fully aware that I may encounter some static. I can handle it. I love him enough, to tune out the "but Mom!" protestations I expect to hear. I am, after all, almost 45.

Oh, and one more thing. It's really NOT OK if he stays out until 4 a.m.

Middle age has its privileges, too!

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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