On Growing Up and Letting Go

“Is this what being an adult is like?” he asks me, fresh from a frustrating 18th-birthday morning spent with his dad at the DMV at the bank, battling bureaucratic bullshit and accomplishing exactly nothing.  We look at each other, John and I, and John says, “Pretty much.”
He’s so excited to be 18, so ready to take on the world.  He marches to the beat of his own drum.  A brilliant boy, a gifted writer, a kid who doesn’t do his homework but engages in lively classroom discussions and aces his tests, he has no current plans to go to college.  He wants to graduate high school, get a job, and move out as soon as humanly possible.
And yet he was born only yesterday, or so it seems to me, our 11.5 lb. firstborn son, a beautiful baby with intermingled locks of light brown, blonde, and gold.  “I know this baby!” my mother said when she saw him.  Our first child was her father’s image, but Jake looked like my family–really the only one of five that does.  His hair would be the color of mine–if mine were not grey and he had not dyed his a dark red, just enough off the natural spectrum to be edgy but not extreme.  But he has the blue eyes and the fair Irish skin that only burns.

We knew nothing of boys–there were three girls in my family and John  is an only child–and Jake was a challenge.  He was a good baby and a sweet child, but he started breaking things at eight months old and never stopped.  Teddy arrived only a year later–poor Jake was the baby of the family for only a short time–and they became partners in crime, but Jake was the definite leader as they drove my car into the side of the garage, kidnapped the neighbors kittens, and ran away to “look at Chapman Highway.”

Jake would run around like a maniac and when I would try to calm him down he would say, “But Mommy, don’t you know I get all cwazed up?”  We didn’t know at the time that the “cwaziness” indicated ADHD, which both animates Jake and makes his life more challenging than the rest of us can understand.  Once we figured this out, proper medication helped him concentrate and do his homework, but at a high price:  sleep difficulties, loss of appetite, and a dampening of his personality that made him feel like he was in a fog.  His behavior when off the medication in the summertime led his brother to lament: “Oh, God.  Jake’s happy.”
All of us grownups know that high school is as painful as it is fun, and Jake’s experience has been no different.  He excelled in theatre.  He became a “rowdy teenager with a lot of friends” who loved to hang out together downtown.  His teachers loved him.  They praised his contributions to class discussion and his writing.  But homework problems and sleep difficulties dragged him down.  Clinical depression and conflicts at school made 17 (which I fondly recall as one of my best ages) a rough year indeed for Jake.  He transferred out of an environment that was becoming toxic for him–not my choice but one which I have come to believe has been best for him.  He walked bravely into an enormous public school, made friends, passed his classes, and got into a program that accommodates his desire to get out of high school and on with real life sooner than his peers.

Prom 2011

In a family of strong-willed people, Jake’s may be the strongest.  As his parents we realize that at 18 he has absorbed all he is getting from us.  One of my favorite quotations comes from Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, when the main character, after reflecting upon her life, offers her friend this bit of wisdom:  “It’s a known fact . . . yuh got to go there to know there.  Yo’ papa and yo’ mama and nobody else can’t tell yuh and show yuh.  Two things everybody’s got to do fuh theyselves.  They got to go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.”

Happy Birthday, Jake.  It’s your time.


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  1. madryy says:

    It’s very hard; letting go. I feel I’m in Jake’s position, I’m 17 and soon will be graduating. It’s overwhelming, and funny how quickly time passes by. In fact, my latest post, albeit short, was on this subject particularly.

  2. sheri says:

    Crying. First of all, it’s so rare to read a parenting blog with “older” kids. Your Jake reminds me of my middle one, who at 15, has always been my “out of the box” kid (I’m actually working on a post about him right now – because he finally said it’s ok!). I have found that one of the hardest things about parenting – if not THE hardest – is listening to our child’s voice and not the voice in our own heads that has already pre-determined their path for him. He is SO SO SO lucky to have you as his mom. Beautiful piece.

    • lesliesholly says:

      Sheri, thank you SO MUCH. I have so many doubts, all the time. It’s realy, really nice to hear that just maybe I am not making as many mistakes as I think I am. I will look forward to reading about your middle kid (Jake is really like a middle child because he was the second of three for six years!).

  3. Julie says:

    Beautiful post. Also, his voice is amazing.

  4. meri says:

    what a beautiful post 🙂 my son is only 5 but we have been through a lot together (he spent his first year in and out of a hospital). he’s a special one, he’s the kid everyone loves and adores and i know he has a rough road ahead of him. i’ll always look at him and think, wow, that’s my baby who spent his first years in casts who i thought would never walk. i can’t wait to see the man he turns into. thank you for sharing!

    • lesliesholly says:

      Wow, Meri, I cannot imagine what you and your little one must have been through. I know you will always appreciate every milestone a little bit more than other moms. Believe it or not, your little five year old will BE a man so quickly you won’t even believe it! It is usually a joy–and always somewhat of a surprise–to see how kids develop!

  5. Jennifer says:

    Leslie, I loved this. Beautifully written and hitting home for me as the mother of a 9th grader who is starting to stretch his wings. I’m really rooting for Jake as he continues on the road to adulthood. And for you too. It’s hard to let go but it sounds like you’re doing a great job.

    • lesliesholly says:

      Thank you so much, Jennifer. I appreciate the vote of confidence. Yesterday Jake said he had never been so happy. He is so excited about being officially grown up, but he is still my baby.

  6. Sherri says:

    Oh, this is so close to my heart…found this through Blogstar. My own son turns 18 in May and is knee-deep in his freshman year at college and finding his way. And yet, I still picture him in his room on the computer…but I open the door and he’s not there.
    Your son is adorable, both as a baby and as a young man.

  7. maggie may says:

    This was such a good read, Leslie, and your attitude is so beautiful and full of love.

  8. Lisa says:

    Leslie, I loved reading this. What a great kid–um–man you’ve raised. He has such a sparkle in his eyes,and you’ve captured him beautifully.

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