My son turns 21 today. Twenty-one! Do you mind if I just take a second to process that? Now, I’ve been through the whole “my-child-is-turning-21” thing when my lovely daughter did so four years ago. But there is something about Eli turning 21 that hits me in my core so deeply that when I truly think about it I can’t breathe.
Since Eli is my youngest, I know his birthdays mark me in time. But that isn’t it. I also know that this year I might hear the “I’m 21 and I can do what I want” mantra. Doubtful. Truthfully, as long as my husband and I are “paying his way” that doesn’t hold true.
If I am really honest with myself it’s that I never allowed myself to “see” what 21 would look like on Eli; who he’d be, what his life would be like, even what he would be doing. I’m sure many of you can relate. All through Eli’s early years it was enough just to make it to the next minute or hour or through the day. Projecting to the next ten or 15 years was a luxury my husband and I didn’t really afford ourselves.
I had very small parenting goals back then. Tiny. “Let’s see if Eli can get dressed for school this morning without Wayne having to sit on him to do so.” “What are the odds that Eli will actually get in the car this week to go to fencing?” “How many minutes of peace will I have before Eli starts yelling at me that he doesn’t want to…?” “How long can I leave Maddie and Eli alone before my phone rings?” And on it went.
Sound familiar? Now not every day was like that. Some actually went quite smoothly. But many were rough. Like “Mrs. Josel, we can’t seem to find Eli. We think he might have walked out of the school building when no one was looking,”kind of rough.But I don’t have to go there. You all get it.
So how the heck did we get here? It feels like I turned my back for one second and when I turned back found this tall, handsome, kind, smart, happy, talented love of a son staring down at me.
The son who never looked where he was going and who’s driving instructor once kicked him out of the car is now a cautious and responsible driver.
The son whose middle school teachers had us regularly questioning whether any post graduation education would be the right path to follow is a focused college junior who is applying for internships in music and sound production in Los Angeles for next semester.
The son who constantly tested my patience on a daily basis is now the one reminding me when I get frustrated and want to give up “that anything worth doing is worth working hard for.”
The son who couldn’t see past “right now” to plan his time; now juggles 5 classes, audio projects, social plans and a thesis effortlessly.
And the son who was told by his elementary school in 3rdgrade that they couldn’t “educate” him and would need to go elsewhere now has college professors who send emails telling us “we should be very proud of [our] son. He is friendly, intelligent, hard working, fun, and brings tremendous value to the class. I enjoy having him in the course andknow that I can always turn to him for insightful commentary on any topic that we are covering.”
It’s all a bit much.
Truth be told, even during all of the tough times, we always saw glimmers of the young man Eli might become. My husband often said “If we can just freeze dry him and wake him up when he’s eighteen, things will be different.” While I may have thought that was wishful thinking, deep down I was hoping he was right.
But beyond the hope, there was something actually happening that I was certain about. My son worked hard to get here. Heck, my whole family did alongside him. But we didn’t do it alone. There were teachers, guidance counselors, professors, employers, advisors, camp counselors, family, friends, theater coaches, one tough fencing instructor, one even tougher driving instructor and countless other mentors along the way. We called it Team Eli. And still do. People that believed in my son; his strengths, his gifts and most important, his purpose. And that allowed Eli to believe in himself.
So happy 21stbirthday my Eli. We can’t wait to see where the next ten years will lead you.
Leslie Josel is an academic/life coach specializing in students with ADHD and LD, an award-winning author and internationally acclaimed speaker. She is the creator of the Academic Planner: A Tool for Time Management®, a planner that helps students develop time management skills, and the author of “What’s the Deal with Teens and Time Management”, a parents guide to help teach their students time management skills.
A respected resource on ADHD and Executive Functioning in students, Leslie writes a weekly column called “Dear Organizing Coach” for ADDitude Magazine, the premiere resource for adults and children with ADHD and LD. Leslie is also a contributing parenting writer for national magazines such as Family Circle Magazine and Diabetes Magazine and writes about a wide variety of topics facing parents and their kids today.
She founded Order Out of Chaos 15 years ago with the purpose of providing hands-on education, guidance and coaching to parents and their students through customized products and programs, so all children – both mainstream and with learning issues – can develop the necessary skills they need to experience success in learning and in life.