I miss my baby

Turning 18 is a huge milestone. You get to vote, drink alcohol legally, and generally be seen as an adult. But now that my own son has made the jump to adulthood I’m thinking it’s an even bigger milestone for me than it is for him.

It happened gradually, there wasn’t a big chasm on the day he turned 18, but it almost felt like it. The day of his birthday had always been a family thing, from his first year there was gift giving in our bed accompanied by the singing of various renditions of happy birthday. Usually we went out for dinner with his grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. We felt like his birthday belonged to us in a small way — it was his birthday but it was also the day my husband and I celebrated becoming parents.

But this year, the night before he turned 18 he had around 20 of his closest male friends over. They drank. A lot. They ordered pizzas for dinner and then McDonalds twice during the course of the night. They drank some more, they played cards, they played drinking games and they acted like really young adults do at a party.

My husband and I made ourselves scarce; we were around but not in their faces. Actually we hid in our bedroom with the door closed and consoled the dog that he hadn’t been invited to the party.

Later in the night I heard singing and I realised the time. It was midnight, officially his birthday and his friends burst into a raucous, drunk and very loud rendering of Happy Birthday. I smiled and forced myself to stay in my bed. I sent him a message on our family Whatsapp wishing him happy birthday and telling him I love him. It was hard not to take part in this part of the birthday celebration — but it was also right. He is old enough to celebrate without his parents.

At 2am he messaged back to ask if they were making too much noise and at 4am he messaged to say goodnight and tell us he loves us because he’s an excellent person whether he’s a child or an adult.

The morning of his birthday came and I didn’t dare venture into his room where six of his friends lay scattered in various stages of hangover. The only person brave enough to venture in was his girlfriend.

And while later in the day we hosted a big lunch for the family and his close friends whose parents have become our closest friends, the day was about him and his friends. And come the evening when everyone finally left, he and his girlfriend went out for dinner where he ordered a beer because he’s 18 and he can.

I couldn’t be happier for him. He came home and told us he had had the best weekend and nothing makes my heart swell as much as hearing how happy he is. But I felt something else too — not a drift, because he’s still my child and we are still very close and he was, at this point sitting on my bed telling me and my husband in detail what he ate for dinner, but I felt a strong understanding that he’s not just my little boy anymore.

He’s a young adult with his own life, brilliant friends, freedom and his own thoughts and beliefs. Our relationship is different now, as it should be. It’s better even than it was during all those baby years because we understand each other and relate on a much more equitable level. I love the adult he is, I love the friends he has chosen and if I could have designed the perfect girlfriend for him I would have designed the woman he has chosen himself.

I am delighted and proud that he got to adulthood with so much love around him, with a sense of confidence and security that all this love has afforded him. I’m thrilled that the “hard” parts of parenting are over — the running around, the disciplining, the contacting of books and the supervision of play dates and school meetings and homework. I’m relieved the days of the baby and the toddler are over, quite frankly thrilled that I never have to go to another swimming lesson in my life, force him to eat vegetables or pat his back for hours to get him to sleep. But I miss my baby.

I miss the tiny baby who slept in my arms, the baby whose tears I could stop with a cuddle and some soft words, the toddler who would listen to my bedtime stories while he lay in bed and ask me to stay, which I did. I miss the child who could argue with me and then have everything resolved with a hug; the soft little hands that held mine while he looked up at me and asked me twenty questions in less than five minutes. I miss him relying on me and thinking I was the one who could make everything okay.

I’m not sad that he’s grown up. It was my job to make sure he did that in the healthiest and happiest way he could. I don’t resent him being an adult because he’s a doing a bloody brilliant job of it and I love him more every day. But it doesn’t mean I don’t I miss the baby he was.

It’s been a huge, slow change losing the child and gaining the adult. And while I wouldn’t swap the adult for anything I fear I’m going to be a very overbearing grandmother one day…

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