Sixteenth birthdays are important milestones in our lives. As teenagers, we spend months, if not years, dreaming (often obsessing) about the day we are officially allowed to drive. Freedom!! In my area, girls are having sweet sixteen parties that tend to be lavish events where parents rent halls and hire caterers. I don’t recall such parties during my high school years, though I’m sure there must have been a few because there were one or two débutantes in my southern hometown.
And while teens are planning their escapades and fêtes, parents are often stressing about forthcoming financial woes: skyrocketing insurance premiums, for one.
In addition to the monetary tensions, parents and teens frequently come to loggerheads about various life situations:
“Why do I have to have a ten o’clock curfew on school nights; none of my friends do.”
Uh-huh. “Because. When the commercial airs at ten o’clock, I can say, ‘Yes, I know where my children are.’ ”
“What do you mean I can’t wear this (baggy pants, tank tops, jeans with the ass shredded) to school? Everyone else does.”
“No, not everyone, because you’re not.”
“I’m not driving the minivan to school.” (A script would include major eye rolling, here.)
To which I wish I’d had the foresight to say, “Good. If you’re not driving, my insurance rates won’t go up.”
As Gavin’s sixteenth birthday loomed in the not-too-distant horizon, I did think wistfully about the significance of the age. Wow, Gavin would be obtaining a driving permit in a couple of months. There existed a longing that originates from a place of feeling left out, of missing out on something so spectacular.
While Gavin quietly turned sixteen, his fourteen-year-old brother’s hormones were raging, and he was rebelling. My husband and I spent countless hours with his principal and countless more talking and pleading with our son. We perpetually grounded him and worried endlessly. Note: this, too, did pass. Eventually.
One year later, we continued to face troublesome days with our oldest living son, though the behavior had improved dramatically. When Gavin’s seventeenth birthday arrived, my mind wandered to what his life might be, our life might be, if he were still alive. As usual, I culled soothing thoughts and blissful images of a smiling young man. A tender feeling washed over me, like those I still feel today when I am rocking a sleeping baby.
Suddenly, a wave of realization crashed through my envisage. An immediate chortle rose from deep within me as I recognized this very simple truth: Though I had acknowledged Gavin’s aging, I had continued to idealize him. He had remained to me the perfect child. Ten toes. Ten fingers. Gerber-baby face. Flawless skin. Innocent. Pure.
Gavin had never rejected me, had never challenged my authority, he had never disappointed me. As I continued to laugh, his smile turned mischievous, and suddenly I saw humor in angst, an anguish I will never experience with him. And it dawned on me how we tend to eradicate the troubles, and immortalize one’s exultant traits in death.
I continued to laugh as I looked up, and pointed my finger (my index finger) to the heavens. “Ah, Gavin, you’ve had me fooled all these years, haven’t you? What sort of havoc are you wreaking up there?” I wonder.
Right now, a collective guffaw is rolling through our spiritual universe.
Keep smiling! And, good day to you, all!