Bonne fête mon chat!
What a milestone. For you, legal adulthood. For me, tipping from parenthood into co-adulthood. Don’t misunderstand the term: you will always be my child. You will always be the only person who ever was my baby. This birthday highlights that my role will be shifting from carer to supporter, and that I am no longer the one who has the most to teach you. That has probably been the case for a little while now, but this milestone is a good moment to let that thought sink in.
Not that the learning has been a one-way street. I recall a conversation, when you were maybe 4 years old and expressing some impatience with how obtuse I was, in which I replied that children spend a long time with their parents because parents really have a lot to learn from them. Eighteen years on, I don’t think I’ve fully been cured of all my shortcomings, but you’ve undoubtedly helped me along. In the coming years, it will be distance-learning, but I promise I’ll be paying attention.
We’ve come a long way. On your first morning, the midwife asked whether you had weed (prissiness even extends to midwives in Britain–I was once asked to ‘spend a penny’ in the course of a clinical prenatal visit). Oh my, I thought, even that biological function can’t be taken for granted. That was a degree zero moment for me; this is the place we start from. And now, look at you: the world is your oyster. Or maybe it has been for while. (Yes, you’re right, I’m not the quickest to realize these things.) You were tuned in, from the time you were pointing out cranes from your pushchair and perking up your ears hearing the sound of sirens four blocks away… and it was also coming, when you were barely 13 years old and it seemed to me that, while some of your schoolmates didn’t dare cycle to the other side of town, you, on the other hand, could be dropped in any European city, and you would simply make your way home. And it was getting pretty clear when you decided you might as well camp out in the wilderness rather than on camping sites while trekking in France last summer, having experienced the oddness of pitching your bivy sack between the motor homes. Now, in the run up to your 18th birthday, you’ve decided to wait another month to renew your passport, having figured out that you won’t have to bother with documents for parental consent after the 17th of March. It wouldn’t surprise me if you were living on another continent, a year from now. Or maybe it will be two blocks away. But you’ll be doing it on your own terms and living your own life.
This eighteenth birthday is also a good time to say that even though you thrive and move on, I will always be, enthusiastically, devotedly, and probably now and then, embarassingly, your biggest fan. Your curiosity, you talent for teaching and coaching, your ability to be sensitive to others without being sentimental or nosy about it, your humor, your internal moral compass and sense of justice, your generosity and helpfulness– I wish it on the world and I’m so proud, so privileged to have been a part of it, with my great love as co-parent. Among the many passions, intimacies and relationships that will cross your path, I hope you will also know such shared parental joy.
Life will not always be easy. Your recent accident is proof of that, dashing all your planning and training of the past year–but not your hopes and aspirations, and that is how I know you will prevail. While I dearly wish you had not had to deal with this, these past weeks have been the occasion to see how resilient you are and how much support those who know you are willing to give.
Finally, I hope your penchant for junk food will not spin out of control. But otherwise, I’m really not too worried.
Merci à tous ceux et celles qui t’ont aidé à grandir, à Bath, Buckingham, L’Ange-Gardien, Moncton, Houten, Groningen, Ottawa, Thurso, Zeist, Amsterdam, Emmen, Nieuwkoop, Utrecht, Paraza et Haren, à Trois-Saumons et Minogami. Bienheureux ceux et celles qui vont te connaître.
Live long and prosper.