My only son, Ethan Blake Higgs, will celebrate a milestone birthday this week, on May 22, and I’m having some conflicting feelings about it.
Eighteen. My oh my, how time has flown. I can still remember our first day home from Baptist East Hospital in 1995, and how terrified I was that I would break him.
In fact, I am thrilled to say I have successfully kept another human being alive and in one piece all the way from birth to adulthood.
Other parents reading this know that sometimes, simply keeping our kids safe from physical harm is the best we can do.
It was touch-and-go on a few occasions. The time I lost an 8-year-old Ethan for a few minutes at one of the water parks at Disney World comes to mind. I still cringe when I think about that. Eeck.
Anyhoo, another plus surrounding this milestone is that I am free of legal responsibility for my son. In other words, any stupid decisions Ethan makes — and subsequent trouble he gets into — from this point forward are his problem, not mine.
On the other hand, I’m wistful that my only child, my baby, is officially an adult. Make no mistake, though, age 18 is by no means “grown.” Being a grown-up only comes from hard knocks and experience, not any certain number of birthdays. I was 35 before I finally felt grown up, myself.
Truth be told, I’m worried for Ethan’s future, because he is not on the path I would have chosen for him. He’s already going to have more than a few potholes ahead of him because of some decisions he’s made about his education, or lack thereof.
Despite my best intentions -- three different schools, tutoring and counseling, and many, many arguments – Ethan shirked the traditional high school experience and is not college bound. At least not for now.
From a purely selfish standpoint, I’m a little sad I don’t have senior portraits, prom or graduation pictures on my mantle from what should have been Ethan’s senior year this year. I know I did the best I could under some pretty shitty circumstances, especially during the implosion of my second marriage to his father last year.
You know that old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink?” Yeah, that.
Unless I had sat in the classroom next to Ethan and held his hand with a damn pencil in it, I don’t think I could have done anything differently. He is very smart, but he has always hated school. No matter what I said or did changed that. He is also obstinate and relentless, so I’ve basically been fighting a losing battle since kindergarten.
With a little maturity under his belt — not to mention muddling through a few dead-end jobs — I feel confident he will change his mind and pursue his education later on. (The longer he waits, the harder it will be, but try telling him that. Sheesh.)
He does know that if he is not going to at least take the GED test, he will not be living in my home much longer. He’s also got to have a steady job and be making forward progress in some form or fashion. Oh, and he’s going to have to pay some rent.
I’ve decided that I’m done taking care of people — I’ve had someone to support (sometimes more than one person), both emotionally and financially, all of my adult life. I am OVER IT.
Bottom line: If you ain’t a productive member of my household, go find another household.
Anyway, I think Ethan will “get it” eventually. It’s out of my hands now, so I have to accept his choices, even if I don’t like them. As I said, though, I don’t have to put up with behavior I don’t like in my own home. And I won’t.
The other night, when Ethan had friends over to mooch some snacks, I noticed that his core group of dudes is just as aimless as he is. They all work in minimum wage jobs, drive beater cars (if they even have cars) and were recently ejected from their parents’ homes, or soon will be.
That observation made me feel better in a weird sort of way because I thought, “When they all end up homeless, at least they will be together in the same cardboard box.”
I know this wasn’t the requisite warm and fuzzy, “I love my brilliant son more than life itself” birthday post, but I really needed to say all of this. Life isn’t always sunshine and roses, and for me, writing about it makes it more manageable.
(Just for the record, Ethan is brilliant in many ways. And handsome, sweet, generous, outgoing, witty, kind and the very best movie theater date.)
I don’t want to end on a negative note here, so let me close with something a little more commemorative for the occasion.
The birthday card I got for Ethan made me tear up in the aisle at Walgreen's, because it sums up so perfectly how I feel about him. No matter how big of a jackass he might be, he is MY jackass, and I love him to the moon and back.
The card says:
“I may not be able to carry you in my arms anymore, but I will always, always carry you in my heart.”
Happy birthday, buddy.
About Amy Higgs
A former newspaper columnist, Amy takes her random, slice-of-life stories to the web. After nine years, she's still just saying.