The Astonishing Adults Our Children Become

Written for my son on his 21st birthday, June 16, 2013

What changes are there to come, my son, now that you will be 21? Which parenting rules still apply, and which ones are as irrelevant to your life now as the Little Tykes car that you used to careen around in? Up and down the block you’d go, you’re little legs propelling you forward. What changes, now that you’re legally able to buy a bottle of Grey Goose or a cocktail at a bar? Do my influence and my words of advice become pointless, or does maturing cause you to listen more closely?

How does it feel to look back over 21 years and know that, once and for all, your childhood is over? Eighteen may be a legal milestone, but as all parents know, most college freshmen are nowhere near adulthood. It’s 21 that marks the beginning of the next phase of your life — the start of your life as a grown man. I see the beginnings of it all, looking at you, remembering the sweet little boy with a Barney the Dinosaur obsession and a Gymboree blanket he took everywhere he went.

There’s so much more to come, and you’re anxious for it all to happen, I see that. Don’t rush it. Don’t wish your life away. Be 21 and then 22, and on and on. Be a young man with the world an open book for you to read at your leisure. Or, in your case, think of it as a football season just beginning. There are so many things to figure out, and it won’t happen all at once. You’re impatient — just like I was. You want tomorrow to happen yesterday. Please, stop here for a moment.

I take steps back, consciously, leaving you room to breathe, to be separate from me, from your father. I want you to find your way, the voice in your head telling you what to do a delicate mix of us, your grandparents, your sister, your friends (of course your friends) and your own personal code of behavior.

I see you make choices that make me proud of your instincts, trusting your own judgment after a lifetime of saying “help me figure this out.” You don’t need us as much anymore. You told your father this year, “I finally realized I don’t have to tell you and Mom everything,” and I knew we had done our job. But we’re still here, ready to give you our words of advice if you need them — though it’s less and less often that you ask. You’ve grown up.

Sometimes I miss that little boy, the one with the purple dinosaur on his bed and enormous green eyes that looked at me as if I was the queen of the world. But I love the man you’ve become, that you’re becoming. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for you — but I will. I’ll linger here for a moment, just like you should.

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  • This is beautiful and made me a little weepy.

  • This post is so timely: our eldest had his very first shave this weekend (ironically it was on Mother’s Day), which for me symbolised his entering manhood. Next week he’ll complete his last full term at school before embarking on ‘A’ levels and then (hopefully) uni in Sept. Yet I still have vivid memories of his toddler obsession with diggers and dinosaurs – and the sleepless nights – as though it were only yesterday!

    • Sharon Greenthal

      I think we spend so much time with them when they are small that it’s easy to conjure up those days in our minds!

  • What a great [pst Sharon! It’s amazing to get to sit back and watch our children take on the world!

  • Touching and beautifully said. Both my kids are in their 30’s now, and I love it when they still reach out and show us how they still need us…but not for everything. I love watching them build their lives and make good choices. Great post…glad you found it!

  • Sharon, this is so beautiful. Wonderful images. The purple dinasoar. The Orange and yellow Little Tykes car…..and now they’re all grown up…..
    How we view all this…and the messages we give our adult kids is key. What you wrote speaks to me, the mother and…the daughter. Thanks!

  • I find myself time-warping with my kids, too. I can still conjure them as babies, toddlers. To them it was a lifetime ago but to me, just a blink.

  • Absolutely beautiful letter, Sharon and totally choked up reading this today. My girls are still fairly young, as you know, but I know this day will come for me and hope I can say it easy eloquently as you did here. 😉

  • My friend, I take great pride and pain to write little Facebook tributes to my children on their birthdays that say exactly what I want them to know about how much I love and respect them. They’re not even statuses. They’re essays.

    But this year, if I get busy, I may just send Sam (who will turn 21) a link to this wonderful, wonderful post with a note, “what she said.”

    So lovely, so crystal clear how you feel about that boy, and SO relatable,

  • Darn it…I think I’ve got something in my eye! Very, very timely as my son’s 21st is fast approaching. I may have to borrow Susan’s idea. Except I know for a fact my son NEVER reads my emails….maybe if I texted it to him.

  • I have two sons — 24 years old and 21. I know how you feel. Its fascinating to watch them grow into the people we expect and also people we don’t expect with their own quirks and passions. Motherhood is like gardening. You give them all the water and sunshine you can, the rest is up to them.

  • Crying over here. My oldest just turned 20 and we’re so proud of the man he’s becoming. But sometimes I really miss my little bouncing red haired boy. Loved the part about “lingering here for a moment”..

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