On His 18th Birthday, Remembering My Son's Life So Far

As of today, I’m the mother of an 18-year-old. My son Chris, a senior, will be headed off to college in a few months time, an inevitability that tugs on my heartstrings as nothing ever has before. Although I obviously love all three of my children with equal fierceness, many parents -- myself included -- bond with their first-born offspring in a very intense way. And so, although I’m not the kind of person who looks backward a lot, I find myself trying to conjure up memories of my oldest kid’s first steps, first words, first friendships on this, his 18th birthday.

And the sad reality is -- I can’t. Not completely.

Sure, I have photos hanging on walls to remind me of holidays, vacations and school concerts. And I have a Baby’s First Year calendar -- in a box somewhere -- on which I carefully noted every early milestone. But do I really remember what it was like -- how it felt -- sitting with the little boy with chubby cheeks who could multiply before anyone else in his class? Not really.

Is that a bad thing? I have no idea. I see my son turning an age today I can still feel so vividly lives inside myself and I can’t imagine that I’ll ever forget what this period in our lives was like. How he played the theme song from “Toy Story” incessantly after high school to unwind. How he sunk his driving test first time around because he didn’t know what a “K turn” was. How he rolled his eyes every time I begged him to go shopping for a nice pair of dress slacks. Or how he alone never failed to ask me about my day when I walked in the door.

But -- in 10 years -- I very well might.

The truth is, you think you’ll remember every moment of your kids’ lives even though, much of the time, you don’t. Bizarrely, etched into the recesses of my mind is my phone number and address from childhood. But, for the life of me, I can’t draw out of cold storage a memory of my son losing his first tooth. When did he become so passionate about sushi? I have no idea.

I asked my close friend Robin about this the other night and she made me feel a lot better with her response.

“I can’t even remember what I did yesterday let alone my kids when they were little,” she said.

My friend talked about how she wished she’d videotaped more of her children’s moments as babies and toddlers.

She said: “My kids are only 7 and 10, so I can still do that, but I don’t remember much at all about their baby and toddler lives. Even the big milestones like when they first walked are already really blurry. If I think about how chaotic and stressful those times were for us, then it’s not surprising I don’t remember much.”

Like my friend, I wish I’d videotaped more of my children’s everyday encounters. In addition to marking down my son’s first words, I wish I’d described somewhere the first conversations we had about whether or not there’s a Santa Claus -- or a God. Sometimes we’re so busy making sure we have a photo from our child’s first day of kindergarten we forget to take video of a typical summer afternoon, with everyone splashing around in the inflatable pool, doing nothing but laughing -- or squabbling.

Today, on my son’s 18th birthday, I want to try and remember not just his milestones but his personality at ages 5, 9 and 13. I could do without the notation of the first time he pooped in a toilet. I’d rather remember how he played with our first family dog before he died. They used to sleep together. Didn’t they? Now I can't recall. While scrapbooks are nice, I wish I’d devoted more time to keeping a journal in which I describe in detail those everyday moments that could help trigger memories today.

Another friend of mine said she and her children take a few moments at the end of every year to write down their memories of the previous 12 months. “I keep the sheets of paper in a closed jar with the year written on it. We have five or six jars now and I told the kids we will all open them every couple of years or when they turn 18 and look back at all of our mindsets,” she said.

Not a bad idea.

And so over the weekend, as we celebrated my son’s 18th birthday in a variety of ways, I made lots of notes in my new journal. And when he and his siblings were bantering about the pros and cons of my 12-year-old daughter’s increasingly active social life, I took video.

And a lot of it.

When I told my son about this blog, he said, “Don’t worry mom. I don’t remember all that much about being a little kid either.” One thing I’ll never forget is the indescribable joy that this amazing boy has given me every day for the last 18 years. Happy Birthday Chris!