So I have a birthday coming up and, shortly thereafter, my great kid is going to be headed off to be a counselor at a sleep-away camp for a month. It’s the longest we’ll ever have been apart and the thought of that – along with my impending doom over yet another birthday – has me thinking.
When I was younger – and I don’t know if it’s just me or everyone, so if it’s you too, please tell me – the 365 days between your birthdays was endless. You celebrated your half-birthday – at least we did in my family – and counted the days until your birthday would arrive again. And when it did, it was such a huge deal.
I’m thinking that maybe a lot of that was because of the times we lived in then. When I was a kid, you got presents at Christmas and your birthday and maybe Easter (although that was usually a book and a chocolate rabbit). So waiting in anticipation for your birthday – and for me, my birthday falls almost exactly halfway in the year, so it had been 6 months since Christmas/presents – was a thrilling and impatient experience.
But now, kids tend to be given things more often and not just for holidays. Good report cards, Valentine’s Day, Halloween (well, maybe not Halloween) but you get the point. Kids have much more given to them and more frequently than we did. And I’m as guilty as the next parent in doing that. Maybe it’s the instant gratification society we live in. Do you value something less when you get it without having to wait for it? Or do you tire of it more quickly because there’s always something new on your horizon? I don’t know.
But back to my original point. Watching my son head off to camp – and he’s almost 18 so he is, as he often tells me, almost a man – will be painful for me. I don’t know if it’s just me but I never think of my great kid as anything but a kid. Because if I think of him as “almost a man”, it will be acknowledging my ever-speedier march towards my ever-increasing age. I could swear I just celebrated my birthday and yet here it is again this weekend. How has a year gone by so quickly? And a monumental year it has been too for me in so many ways so you’d think it would have lasted longer, at least in my mind.
So off he’ll go to camp which will be a good experience for both of us because in the not-too-distant future, he’ll be headed off to college and then perhaps marriage some day. And when those things happen, I’ll have to get used to being on my own. (Although he has told me that I can live in his basement when he gets married, even if his wife doesn’t like me. That may be the nicest thing he ever said to me). But getting used to being on my own will, I suspect, be tougher on me than him. What will I do with my time? Who will I talk to? The dogs can only hear so much about American Idol and Celebrity Apprentice before they close their eyes and pretend to sleep. So my goal this summer is to start working on being comfortable with being alone. Because, in the end, whether you’re living with a spouse, or a parent, or your kids, you really are alone with your thoughts and dreams and fears every day and learning to embrace that will mean I’ve grown up.