On his own route- Image: nickgeek.com

On his own route-
Image: nickgeek.com

On April 12th my Middle Man, my boy, is turning 21. Technically, he turned 21 when it was still the 11th where I sit, as the time difference is 15 hrs ahead to my time. He’ll spend it somewhere in southern China, on the final leg of a spring break adventure, which has taken him to the Tibetan border (Shangrila), a two day trek in the mountains, and now exploring the south, before heading back to Beijing. He’s spending five months studying Mandarin in Beijing, and making the most of his experience. The spring break trip was something he organized and paid for without our input, with a few of his buddies at school. I probably won’t get to talk to my boy on his 21st birthday, let alone spend it with him, but that’s all part of the growing game.

I’ve been a little on edge all week. Rationally, I know there’s no rhyme or reason. My two eldest children live far away; it’s just part of the package that I don’t always know where they are, or if they’re ok. However, following the sad news of a local girl’s death, while on spring break abroad, I have just felt a bit more unsettled than usual. I know it’s irrational, but it is what it is. There isn’t always logic, in a mother’s heart, so it was a huge relief to hear his voice yesterday.

3 months old, in the tiny sink of our apartment in Chicago

3 months old, in the tiny sink of our apartment in Chicago

My boy came into the world twenty-one years ago, and our lives have not been the same since. He was the calmest, sweetest baby I could have imagined— rarely crying, and fussing only when he really needed something. After his challenging older sister, who never stopped moving and had a will of her own from day one, he was was a sweet respite. He was strong and alert from the start. Bright and happy. He adored his older sister and Mimi was his first word: his version of his sister’s nick name. Whatever she did, he wanted to be next to her, keeping up with her. That lasted for a long time, until she got tired of a little brother following her around… In the past few years, they have struggled to find that same closeness, but I hold out hope that one day, they will find it again.  He was inquisitive beyond his years, and from an early age his questions challenged me… as often I didn’t really know the answers.

Middle Man is his own guy. No doubt about it; he marches to his own beat. There are times when he rattles my cage in every way imaginable, but more and more his ability to let things go, and his fierce independence, really amazes and impress me. He doesn’t hold onto issues the way I do. He moves on a lot faster, and lets the shit fall away. It’s something that I wish I could master, and admire in him. He’s got an amazing sense of adventure, and is willing to try most things. There isn’t a lot that holds him back!

At Taj Mahal, 2010

At Taj Mahal, 2010

When we traveled to India together in 2010, the spring break of his Senior year in high school, we had the opportunity to forge some new bonds and see each other in new lights. I went with the absolute conviction that we needed to be a team, no Mom-kid authority. There were some very bumpy moments, a few when I wanted to fly home and throw in the towel. But then, there were some moments when we found such joy in our time together, and I got to see a side of my boy that helped me understand him, and respect him in entirely new ways. Riding in a rickshaw together, in Cochin (in the south), late at night: the cool breeze a relief, after the hot humid day, on one of the last nights of our trip, is one of the best memories of my life. We leaned on each other, we had fun together, and we had the adventure of a lifetime.  In the end, it was worth every bump in the road, and I will always be grateful for the time I spent with my boy, in India.

When Middle Man chose to go to college in California, we were totally stumped. He’d been interested in the East Coast for years. The schools he had expressed the most interest in were all there. Instead, he chose a CA school and it’s been the best thing in the world for him. He knew what we didn’t. Always an athlete and outdoors guy, he loves the sun and warm weather there, and is constantly hiking, snowboarding, playing frisbee, bocce, and hanging with the close group of friends he’s made. He’s made a life for himself, that neither his father nor I envisioned.

We would never have imagined that he would love Mandarin so much and pursue it so enthusiastically. He attended a boarding school in Vancouver, BC where a significant percentage of his fellow boarders were from China, but never expressed an interest in learning the language. Now, he is in China in a Mandarin emersion program, majoring in Foreign Relations. His life is filled with great friends who have been supportive, and who have provided him with fantastic sense of community and fun. He loves school and does well, studying things that are, frankly, way over my head.  He’s created a world that is very different than the one we raised him in, and yet includes many of the things we have always felt were very important: friends, an active life, and a community that he loves.

I’m sure every parent feels this way: it’s hard to believe that he’s 21. He’s legal… finally. He’s well on the road to being a true adult— though I have no illusions that the fun and games are over.  Somewhere in China, my boy has turned 21. I can only hope that he is safe, that he is happy, and that his life is headed in the direction he wants it to head. Cheers Middle Man! Gam Bei!

About Dawn Quyle Landau

Mother, Writer, treasure hunter, aging red head, and sushi lover. This is my view on life, "Straight up, with a twist––" because life is too short to be subtle! Featured blogger for Huffington Post, and followed on Twitter by LeBron James– for reasons beyond my comprehension.
This entry was posted in Aging, Awareness, Blog, Daily Observations, Honest observations on many things, Humor, Mothers, Musings, My world, Parenting, Personal change, Tales From the Motherland, travel, Writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to 21

  1. It must be difficult to experience your nest emptying out after investing so much of your adult life caring for your children, doing all the things that go into providing a home, and giving them so much love and support. Something tells me your adult relationships with your children will be equally rewarding. In the meantime, I cannot help but think your children feel they are the luckiest in the world knowing you are never more than a phone call away! 🙂
    Feliz cumpleaños a su hijo!


    • I’m not so sure they would agree 100% with that Mike (though you are so sweet to say it!), but I think we’re pretty lucky. I’m not the easiest, and some days, being a phone call away, is probably just right. 😉


  2. Carrie Rubin says:

    What amazing memories you two must have of India. How wonderful you could do that together. I think traveling creates some of the best family memories, at least it has for us. Great pic of you guys in front of the Taj Mahal.


    • I have taken both of my older children to India, and Little Man and I are going next year, for spring break. I think it’s an amazing place for them to see, and I’m fortunate that we’re able to do it. No doubt, some of the best memories we all have of family trips… but those trips that I’ve made with each of them, individually are incredibly meaningful. Thanks for sharing Carrie!


  3. Dawn, this is a very moving tribute to your son. What a totally cute baby he was! And he turned into a handsome and successful young man. I’m sure he’s having the time of his life. I love the picture in India. Great memories. Thanks for sharing and Happy Birthday Middle Man!!


    • I am biased, for sure, but he really was a gorgeous baby!! He’s out there doing some really incredible things, and I hope he feels satisfied with his life. It’s such a strange transition from that baby to the man he’s becoming. Thanks Lisa.


  4. Happy Birthday Middle Man!! And what a great adventure to have at this time of life. I have made a mental note to make sure I get a few pictures with my Little Man as he hits his teen years on into his twenties- thank you! The photo of the two of you at the Taj Mahal is no doubt a priceless memory for you.


  5. You always do a lovely job capturing your kids in words. Sounds like he’s on a solid path with lots of opportunities ahead. And as for the being far away- I hear ya. hugs.


  6. I find it sad for myself that I will never really appreciate the language of mandarin as your son does having learned it as a second language, but at the same time it’s so cool to hear him learning and imagining him being fluent (even though a Caucasian speaking better Chinese than me shouldnt be a huge surprise )
    He was absolutely adorable in that sink ! You guys pulled through. Glad he’s his own person and pursuing what he wants with a supportive family. Happy birthday from a stranger across the world (:


    • He really does enjoy the language and seems to be doing well. We had a neighbor that got so in to it, that he went to Beijing, and ended up winning some national debate contest, IN Mandarin… against natives!! It was amazing! Middle Man is nowhere near there yet, but he does enjoy it. Ducky, “never say never.”


      • Oh my gosh, I remember how shocked I had been the first time I witnessed a elderly caucasian man do this lyrical poem rhyme on television while playing(slapping) together these two wooden boards for beat, and he articulated better than I did ! Good on Middle Man for sticking to what is supposedly going to be the international language, or already is. Yes, I wouldn’t not if I have to ever quote Le Bieber.


  7. Burr,

    OF COURSE I remember you! Well. I think of you often, and while I don’t write as often as I think of it, I’ve enjoyed the few notes you’ve sent in return. I’m really touched that you are reading the blog, and honored. Thanks for a taking the time to check it out. 🙂 There are some wonderful blogs out there, and it means a lot to me that you have taken time to read my work.

    I know it’s a tough spot, but wish things were easier for you. I hope you know I wish the best for you. xo



Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s