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.
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!
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!