My Son is 17: The Age of Possibility, Potential and Flight

“Text him,” my husband encourages.

“I’m trying to give him space,” I say.

We are discussing our oldest son, who is a guest at his girlfriend’s home this week. It’s a weird reversal of roles because I’m the overly-attached parent.

“He should be sending us pictures and contacting us more,” my husband insists. “Text him again.”

Hmm. My co-dependency may be catchy.

I decide for the moment not to check in and to just let him be. He’s 17 and on day four of his visit. We met his girlfriend, her mom and two of her sisters in Boston, so we wouldn’t have to drive the extra hour to their home in New Hampshire. It was seven hours round trip These days there’s no lingering in restaurants or making a weekend of it.

African American college student
17 is such a beautiful age. (Twenty20)

It was hard to let my 17-year-old go

It took a lot of consideration and internal negotiations to let him go in the first place. There was the “oh my goodness, my first-born baby wants to go far away to another family in this time of crisis,” anxiety, quickly followed by “oh my God, my first-born baby is old enough to go far away, and have a girlfriend” something that is a first for all of us.

We worked through the health concerns, the unrest in the country and my general discomfort and finally agreed. He may always be a baby to me, but he very obviously not a baby. He is strong and handsome, intelligent, and charming. Responsible, mature and, okay, not so mature. He is still 17.

But 17 is such a beautiful age. It’s a time of possibility and potential. It’s when your feelings and positions are so strong. Seventeen is when you are always right and everyone else, or at the very least, your parents are always wrong. It is when love is most powerful.

Our family has been lucky during this crazy time and we are thankful, but my son has missed out. He doesn’t seem to know it or care, but we know. There wasn’t any strutting the halls confidently at the top of the pile, his tests behind him, and college ahead.

There’s no fancy prom or what now would be a typical graduation. There are no parties, senior cut days to the beach or big plans for the summer before the next chapter of his life begins. His world has shrunk to home, family and girlfriend.

So how could I say no? How could I deny my child who had barely scratched the teenaged surface, always content with finding fascinating new ways to stimulate his brain (I think I’ll teach myself Russian, Mom.) and who had found love in his senior year in the most unlikely of places – on a hiking trip in Alaska – his right to be 17.

How could this mom say no?

I couldn’t, wouldn’t and didn’t. He deserved this. Besides, I told myself. It was only a week. He’d be home soon enough.

No one tells you how hard it is watching your children grow up and away. There’s so much talk about the diapers, lack of sleep and tantrums. Everyone focuses on how hard the baby years are and then on how hard it is to parent teens. They talk about the challenges and hurdles. The eyerolls and sarcasm. They don’t talk about the heart ripping pain when your child decides he no longer needs your late-night snuggling, grows embarrassed of hugging you in public or screams that he hates you. No one tells how bittersweet the joy will be when he ultimately graduates high school both ready and excited to move on. Without you. Without their mom.

Now that we have passed so many childhood milestones and are on the verge of adulthood, this week with his girlfriend – his first love – and their family is especially poignant. It is the wool ripped from my eyes; my head no longer buried in the sand. I am forced to see and accept my son, not as the sweet golden-eyed boy who looked up at me but as the charming, now hazel-eyed young man who I now look up to. And as much as I don’t like it, I love it.

Because I love him. So much. And I want him to be happy, find his own road and experience the beauty and, even the heartbreak, of life on his terms. I will watch from the sidelines cheering, just like all those years of baseball, and be there whenever he needs me, for a hug, a meatball sandwich or laundry. Whatever it is, whatever I can do to help him on his way, I’ll do it.

This is the beginning of life without him home

This introduction to life without him is hard. I’m not ready. To be fair, I don’t know if I ever would be, so it happens as it’s supposed to – Finishing up high school. Having a girlfriend. Preparing for what looks like an on-campus college semester. I am grateful that he will have that experience and independence.

“Did you text him yet,” my husband persists, and I answer in the negative.

“I want him to just be present and enjoy him week there. I don’t want him feeling obligated.”

“But he should call his mom,” he says stubbornly. He knows how attached I am and is being protective. I love him for it.

“You know I want him to call, but soon he’ll be home…I’m trying to not – Wait! He just texted!”

I read to my husband. “Hi Mom, I’m having so much fun.” A smiling bashful emoji punctuates.

“That’s great,” I quickly type, with a thumbs up. My heart is full for him, for all he’s doing now, and for all he will do in the future.

I watch the elliptical dots, hungry for more words, thoughts, connection.

“I was wondering, is it okay if I stay another week? Or even two?”

I look at the words, then at my husband, and type “yes.”

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Alisa SchindlerAlisa Schindler is a mom of three boys and wife to Mr. Baseball. She schleps children, burns cupcakes and writes essays that have been featured online at the New York Times, Washington Post, Kveller, Brain, Child, Woman’s Day, Parents and Good Housekeeping, among others. She is currently a regular contributor to Northwell Health’s The Well. On the side, she writes sexy suburban fiction novels. Find out more about her at alisaschindler.com.

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