Last week my baby boy became a man. In legal terms at least. There have been numerous occasions when he has demonstrated that he is “grown up” in a variety of senses over the past few years. Some of these have been disconcerting – signs that he had progressed too far too fast; sought experiences beyond the remit of his years. Sometimes it has been painful to observe, difficult to counsel, hard to strike the balance between critical friend and captivated admirer. I have, I think, spent so much of my son’s childhood prescribing and advising – is this a universal teacher design fault? – that I have sometimes failed to pass on the praise that he has so deserved.
I hope that this is not so rare a phenomenon – as if other parents making the same errors of habits hard-formed can vindicate my own. Yet, having observed it and brought it into awareness, I now feel compelled to begin to right this wrong. It is not that I never point out the positives – I do, I am sure I do. I am also certain that they are received with a cynicism exclusive to adolescence. Perhaps this is why (or because) my compliments are usually so swiftly followed by reminders, domestic requests, instruction, guidance – what must seem like admonishment without the context of exposure to my inner psyche.
Because what is in my inner psyche – what my heart bursts with – is pride. This young man can captivate toddlers and mesmerize pensioners. He can hold court in a room full of educated professionals, and can barely walk down a street without an enthusiastic embrace from a friend or acquaintance. With the very young – his sisters’ peers – he has a gentleness cleverly disguised as apathy, but coated in playfulness. This makes him a magnetic force in a room full of children, and he has been referred to as the “Pied Piper” at many a gathering, as toddlers watched him, awe-struck, marvelling at the lurid shade of hair-dye of the time, yet reassured that this great lump of teenage giant was of the friendly variety.
In a room full of adults, he can command the airwaves without pause for breath; without my understanding much of what he cites these days (why do mathematicians and scientists use so many letters and numbers in place of real words to define their already complex concepts?), I find myself unable to contribute much more than admiration as he adds layer upon layer of detailed explanation; each fascinating fact or theory building upon the last. No wonder, then, that he is surrounded by a social circle worthy of any mother’s approval.
He makes admirable choices when it comes to friends. The faceless names that strike “worst-case-scenario” fear, once introduced, turn out to be intelligent, witty, socially adept, often musically gifted, much to my delight – our piano has been well frequented by burly teenage boys tenderly performing Piano Grade pieces, rock song covers and even Disney classics. I like his friends, and, importantly, so does my youngest daughter; young children seem to serve as a reliable barometer of innate character, judging a person’s “energy” far more than their words, clothes or musical persuasions.
I could so easily have learned this lesson from him – that it is not what is on the surface of a person that counts. Never was this more clearly expressed as his inherent philosophy than during a university visit earlier this year which unfortunately coincided with a relapse affecting my use of my legs. My offer to allow him to attend without me, grounded in my fear that my bright blue wheelchair would result in a label that he would later struggle to detach from, was met with a shrug and shake of the head. “It doesn’t bother me at all. You’re in a wheelchair, you’re my mum.” And then, with a cheeky wink, “Besides, a bit of sympathy might help me pull a girl!”.
So it is with some sadness but far more pride, that I celebrate the newly-achieved adulthood of my eldest child. And although it is almost a week late, I vow to add this piece of writing to the (invariably more valuable) gift of a laptop that served as his “real” present, in the hope that, now the cards have been removed from the shelves, and the alcohol purchased for his party has almost all mysteriously diminished, he will now find the time to read this and accept it in the spirit in which it is intended.
I love you son.