Our third and youngest child, Christian, is 18 years old today. Wow! Now in my bio I can state with total accuracy that I have three young adult children. I purchased the plastic “Happy Birthday” banner shown here on our oldest’s first birthday, launching a family tradition. Last night as I reminded myself aloud to put up the banner, I remarked to Joe that this likely would be the last time we’d hang the birthday banner, that from now on our children would rarely if ever be waking up at here with us on their birthdays. I started to feel a weight of sadness at this realization, but in the next instant it seemed too melodramatic, morbid even, and the wrong mindset. I looked at Joe and said, “I don’t want to focus on all the ‘lasts’ that are upon us. They’re just not worth dwelling on.”
Advance contemplation of endings reminded me of the play we saw on Friday night at the Ensemble Theater here in Cincinnati. “The Mountaintop” by Katori Hall imagines April 3, 1968, the last night of Martin Luther King’s life, in his motel room in Memphis after he has delivered a major speech. A motel employee brings coffee to the room, and their encounter leads to unexpected revelation and insight for King. He is forced to confront two profound truths: “You’re not in control of everything.” And, “It’s not all about you.”
Parenting in general raises such awareness, but Christian particularly has been the bearer of these messages for me. From infancy, he made it clear that he is his own person. We already had experience with a boy and a girl, so Joe and I felt confident in how to raise this son. Wrong! Christian slept less and more randomly, embraced a much broader food palate, and played according to his unique imagination. But we gradually learned to cast aside our prior knowledge or patterns and to trust Christian’s intuitive sense. At age 6, out of the blue he said, “Mom, I want to do a play. Find me a play!” So I did, and since then he has been in at least one show each year, including three plays during every year of high school. Also at age 6, he begged to accompany his older siblings to a five-day overnight farm program four hours away in Holmes County, OH. He met the minimum age, so with the encouragement of the camp director we relinquished our qualms and let him go. Christian never looked back, loved every minute of it, and continued to visit The Country School the next seven summers for at least one week, often two.
Soon we will finalize his college decision, and I expect Christian’s intuition will be the guiding factor, no matter my preferences or fears. In response to a “Happy birthday, Christian” Facebook posting that I made last night, a friend queried, “Now that Christian is 18, does this mean your job as parents is over?” I’ve been thinking about this question all morning, and I would say the answer is largely “Yes.”