Our middle son, 17 years old, is off to camp in the dunes of Michigan with 3 buddies until Thursday. He’s a good kid and we should trust him . . . and we’re trying. We’re experiencing a two-steps-forward-one-step-backward parenting tango with Ben. He’s oblivious to the fact that he is teaching us much about parenting; we have crossed through most parenting thresholds with him. Sure, he’s our second of three sons, but our oldest son, Connor, has presented much different challenges. Connor has significant disabilities, and functions pretty much at a third-grade level. He, too, is a wonderful boy, and has brought much joy to our lives. But he has not traversed the same milestones of classic adolescence; Ben is our trailblazer into this territory.
And so, off he goes on another right of passage, I suppose. He’s with three “good boys”. He has not given us reason to doubt or mistrust. He has been advised of many precautions and parental phobias (riptides, expressway driving, sunburn, illicitly procured alcohol, rogue teenage girls . . . ). He has assured us of his plan for caution, safety, and wisdom. But bottom line, he’s still a kid, and moreover, he’s a teenage boy. He forgot his pillow and blanket. He blamed his parents for the fact that the fire-starting lighter is nearly burnt out. He scolded me for pulling up too far in his friend’s driveway when dropping him off at 6:30 this morning. And when asked about his plan for if and when his cell phone battery dies, he chastised me: “Dad, you know how it is when you’re camping; your phone just dies.”
We can’t hold on to him forever, and as ever-learning parents, we recognize the need to gradually let go. This is another moment of release. He’ll build memories, perhaps he’ll even find moments that he’ll cherish for his lifetime. We owe him that opportunity. But over the next 72 hours, our heart will pound a bit harder, our sleep will be that much lighter, our aching will be that much more pronounced. I hope he feels this new edge of freedom . . . but I hope, too, that he instinctively senses his mom’s and dad’s fingertips just within reach at the same time.