This is Adolescence: 18

18 is a year overflowing with contradictions. Eighteen wants to be a child forever and yet he cannot wait to grow up. He loves his house and cannot wait to leave it. Eighteen is our teen living in our home and in the same momentous year, an adult residing in another state. On the eve of his 18th birthday it seems almost as if nothing has changed and then one morning in August everything is different.

18 is a year of contradictions, of being our child at home and an adult living in another state.

18 is the year I have dreaded since the day he was born. It is the year that I will begin to know him a little less, the year when more of his life happens away from our family than within it. But 18 is also the year I am most grateful for, that as his childhood ends it has been filled with joy and he has thrived wrapped in our love and that of his brothers.

Eighteen cannot believe he is 18. When I tell him that he must register for the selective service and to vote, that I can no longer deal with his doctor, the health insurance company or his college housing office, he is taken aback. Eighteen wants to be an adult, but not if it means a lot of paperwork.

Eighteen wants to spend every spare minute with his friends. He dreads the day when one by one they will leave for college and he tells me how much he will miss them, how much their closeness has meant to him and that he hopes they will stay that way forever. While I am indebted to these wonderful boys who have taught my son so much about friendship, I ignore the tightness in my throat and do not say that I feel the same way about him.

Eighteen is a writer. He hears words and their lyrical cadence in a way that leaves me in awe. He seems to know the natural crescendo of a good story and holds the reader in his grasp. He does not believe my praise, parents are biased, what do we know? His English teacher offers him wonderful encouragement suggesting he write more. I whisper a private prayer of thanks to the gods of high school education.

Eighteen is an athlete and, as a senior, a team captain. He has always been the youngest but finds himself suddenly a role model for younger boys. I watch him learn to lead. In the heat of a game he grapples with his own emotions, keeping them mostly under control as he attempts to inspire those around him. I whisper more thanks to more gods who have given my child this chance to grow.

Eighteen needs to show me he is a grown up, even at the times when I know that he is not. When he is unhappy with me he reminds me that soon he will be gone and then I will not be able to tell him what to do. Eighteen tells me this both because he wants me to acknowledge his independence and because he wants to hurt me that little bit, because in getting ready to go, some small part of him is hurting too.

When Eighteen defies me, I can see that my arsenal for controlling him is severely depleted.

Eighteen is brimming with confidence. His confidence comes from the physical strength and stamina of youth, from being surrounded by those who have known and loved him most or all of his life and from the fact that we may all be at our most beautiful the summer of our 18th birthdays.

Eighteen loves senior year in high school and life at the top of the social food chain. He loves knowing most of the teachers and coaches in his high school and the way they have begun to treat him and the other seniors like young adults. While I delight in seeing him so at ease in his world, I also know that there is nobody less secure than a college freshman.

Eighteen thinks the drinking age is 18. I am the bearer of bad news.

Eighteen thinks he should not have a curfew. I bear more bad news.

Eighteen’s personal hygiene is impeccable. He has never needed to be reminded to shower or brush his teeth. He rarely leaves a mess in the house and usually cleans any garbage from my car when he borrows it. Yet, Eighteen still leaves every article of dirty clothing on his bedroom floor. He has been told 4,287 that there is a laundry hamper in his room. Fearing that he has forgotten, I remind him again. He wonders why I do this, and so do I. Surely there is a point where I should give up, but how will I know when that is?

Eighteen is changing in his older brothers’ eyes. Getting ready to go off to college he somehow seems to be getting closer to them in age. Siblings loom so large in our lives.  Eighteen has lived a life in awe of them and all that they could do whether it was ride a bike without training wheels, drive a car or just stay up late. But now he has done things that they never did and they are a bit in awe of him.

In the summer before he leaves, Eighteen wants to push his father and me away and hold onto us at the same time. I am told that as the reality of their leaving begins to confront some kids, they “soil the nest,” at times giving parents some of their very worst behavior. I try to remember that this is temporary and that if I have learned anything about parenting it is that a markedly changed adolescent will be returned to me come the winter holidays.

Eighteen lies on the floor petting his dog. I am in the next room, but I can hear him telling her that he will miss her. He does not remember life before this dog and is old enough to fully understand that this means that in the coming years he will experience the loss of her. He feels love and he feels fear. He has heard that kids get “the call” at school about their dogs and he does not want that call.

I can tell Eighteen what to do and what not to do, until he leaves for college. But that would be foolish. We are on a trial run for adulthood, so I let him make most of the decisions and step in only when I cannot help myself. I try not to treat him like the child he no longer is, he tries not to act like the obnoxious teenager he no longer is. Most of the time we are successful, sometimes we fail.

Eighteen is no longer simply living in time, but is now truly reflecting upon it. He feels his own childhood slipping away and, while there is much to look forward to, he understands that for the first time there is now much to look back upon as well. Eighteen experiences that sharp pain we feel as adults when we know that a time in our lives that we have loved has passed and that we can never really return to it. As he lets go of his child self and readies to leave, he is fully conscious of the fact that life has painted a bright red line and he is crossing over it.

Eighteen leaves little gashes on my heart, like stinging paper cuts, as time winds down and we no longer have months or years but rather weeks and days. I miss him before he is even gone and I grieve once he has left. Eighteen drifts slowly away the summer after graduation and then one morning I load up the car and he is really gone, and I can do nothing more than help him on his way.

This is Adolescence

This is the final essay in the This Is Adolescence series which began with 11, and covered 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, and  17.  If you are looking forward to adolescence, living it or reflecting upon it, each of these beautifully written essays will make you think.  Conceived by Lindsey Mead and Allison Slater Tate, the entire series will be published in full in Brain, Child’s Special Issue for Parents of T(w)eens, coming in Spring 2015.



  1. says

    This makes me cry. Thank you for reminding me that though 18 is unquestionably the end of something, it’s also the start of something new and wonderful. xox

  2. says

    “Eighteen experiences that sharp pain we feel as adults when we know that a time in our lives that we have loved has passed and that we can never really return to it.” Your words are beautiful and so very real to me. I remember feeling so sad when my youngest started kindergarten – like it was the end of the era, a time I couldn’t return to. Now here I am where you are with a child going to college soon and I feel that bittersweet feeling once again.
    Gorgeous post.Thanks for sharing it.

  3. says

    That push-pull of eighteen – the needing then rejecting us as parents – was quite overwhelming for me. Beautifully written.

  4. says

    I remember the struggle of being 18. So close to still being a teenager, yet so close to being an adult that you could taste it. Beautifully written. well done.

  5. says

    I wish I could write like you do in my kids’ baby books and really capture a heartfelt snapshot of their life at a point in time.

  6. marywquigley says

    Heart wrenching and oh-so true. Sadly we don’t realize all this until they are 19! Parents should get this as a “handout” on the first day of high school to see what’s coming so they can “enjoy the passing moment.” As someone who teaches college freshmen, among others, I can give you a whole other perspective on the 18-year-olds coping/enjoying freedom for the first time.

  7. Anonymous says

    My youngest son of 3 is 18 ….I cry often. ..and love him more each day He is at college and becoming the man and student and son I knew he could be. So proud of him !!

  8. says

    What a beautiful tribute to your son! My children are grown and I find as I get older that I miss the chaos of having teenagers around the house and I NEVER thought I would say that.

  9. Janet says

    Oh my, starting with the picture and the first 3 paragraphs, I am in tears. I’m making myself stop reading so that I can dive into my long to-do and errand list for today. I will come back to this tonight and finish reading – in the quiet of my empty nest – when I will no doubt, have a good cry…

  10. says

    Oh Lisa, you capture this age and stage so beautifully. My second turns 18 in a few months and you truly nailed it. Incredible piece of writing and a gift for all moms. Thank you!

  11. Sandy says

    This touches me. It’s so close to my experience with my senior that I had moments when I was reading it that I ached to find you and dissolve into a puddle with you. Thank you for articulating so perfectly what this loss is like. ❤️

  12. Anonymous says

    Beautifully written! Currently going through the push/pull with my 18 year old son. Much of what you have written we are currently experiencing, it was wonderful to have it affirmed with your article.

  13. Dr. Margaret Rutherford says

    This makes me remember what was not so long ago. Your words resonate with memories that are both dear and – well, not so dear. And gives me a smile. Thank you LIsa.

  14. says

    Great read!♡♡♡♡♡ I have a long way to but this is great reminder to soak it all in.

  15. says

    I loved this. I am going back to read all the other ages because I have an 11, 14 and 17 now. I related most to 2 things in this post – the laundry on the floor – it never changes!! And getting the call about the dog at school…it happened to me and I suspect it will happen with one or more of my kids. Makes me sad just thinking about it, but I tell myself that too is an important part of growing up – learning how to deal with loss.

  16. Anonymous says

    What a wonderful article – I await Eighteen’s return home after finishing fall semester. He will definitely be different from the child who left home in August but now so am I.

  17. k18j04 says

    Thank you for articulating all that I am feeling. A huge milestone for both child and parent.

  18. Anonymous says

    Tears in my eyes, my son is soon to only 7, but as you know the time is going so fast ! As a almost 49 year old parent of one amazing son, I remind myself to cherish each moment as they are just that, moments. Precious moments that sometimes make you realize, “so what if he wants to wear shorts to school in December”. Pick my battles and squeeze him tight – soon he will be off on his own spectacular journey!

  19. says

    Wow, lovely essay. As a mother of two sons in their early twenties, I know that push and pull of emotions. Both my sons seemed happy to leave for college, but I remember their faces when we said goodbye in the dorm. That told me everything.

  20. Anonymous says

    Love this! Are you sure you didn’t write about my son?!…every last detail!

  21. says

    Lovely text. I can’t relate to all of it because i live in France so some of what you describe is very different here. But definitely describes beautifully the passage into adulthood…

  22. normaleverydaylifeblog says

    This is beautiful. I have a son that just turned 17 and I can see these things starting to happen already. So hard to watch them leave…

  23. Anonymous says

    No truer words were ever spoken! As parents, your role has come to a screeching halt. It is time for your fledglings to test their wings. Yes, they will stumble along the way, but trust me, they will pick themselves up, brush themselves off, and try to conquer the world! This is the ‘Circle of Life’ and as in your generation, they will succeed. Congratulations on a job well done!

    All my love,
    Your Mother

  24. Janet says

    Well I finally had a chance to read this in full, and indeed had a good cry. If I could only put my feelings and experiences with my “18” into words, if would read just like this honest, poignant essay. One of the MANY examples that touched my heart was hearing my son talk about how he’d miss his friends that he’d grown up with and I, too, ignoring the tightness in my throat trying not to say what I’m thinking… My college freshman texted me in the middle of the night this week, up studying for exams. Startled at first, but then read the “thank you/love you, mom” message for the exam care package I’d sent him. (complete with a picture of the protein bar and his computer screen). Definitely worth waking up for! Ahhh, home for the holidays in 2 days!