At 17

My 17th birthday party remains in my memory as one of the most fun nights I’ve ever had. I invited a handful of girlfriends to my house to celebrate with me and we feasted on a shrimp and rice gumbo dish that my mother had made for us to enjoy after she departed for the night. There were a number of bottles of sweet sparkling wine and we laughed until black mascara tears ran down our faces. It was unforgettable.

This week my youngest son turned 17. A handful of details of his birth remain vivid all these years later – the kind nurse who steered us to the secret mini fridge filled with juice and jello, the endless stairs I went up and down to hasten my child’s arrival, my doctor who gave me complete freedom to assume any position I found productive and comfortable…all positive and good memories.

At 17, I was clueless about where I was going in life, if anywhere at all. I was a senior in high school, but a terrible student, disinclined to complete assignments or even attend school. I’m afraid my son is similarly inclined. 

The frustration I feel about the inconsistency between his intelligence and his effort is real, but I’m also proof positive that lack of commitment to high school is not necessarily a reliable predictor of future success. On some level, I wish he had opted for a simple, direct route to preparing himself for what might comes next in his life, but I’ve accepted that there’s nothing I can do to motivate him.

He’ll have to figure it out.

The last year has been challenging in ways I’ve never imagined, much less been forced to navigate. Cancel culture has been a weapon wielded for decades, but social media has sharpened the knife that people, including teenagers, use to hurt one another. Trying to determine when to quietly comfort, and when to kick him in the ass, has been a graduate PhD level course in parenting.

Janice Ian wrote an anthem, At 17, to adolescent outsiders. That song absolutely breaks my heart, but I know that where we are that last year before “adulthood,” is merely a page in the book of life we each write for ourselves. My son has many more chapters to come – and I intend to witness as many of them as possible.

That strong mother doesn’t tell her cub ‘Son, stay weak so the wolves can get you’. She says, ‘Toughen up, this is reality we are living in.'”

Lauryn Hill

4 thoughts on “At 17

  1. Sylvia! I don’t think I have written to tell you how much I look forward to your blogs. I typically wait to read them when I’m home from work, pour a glass of wine and relish hearing about the bits of your life you share so openly. These days I spend a lot of time alone, I am still working at the hospital so going out anywhere except in my small circle of friends, doesn’t really exist. In the last two years I have left Greenfield twice, once to attend a three day silent retreat at a meditation center in honor of the relationship between the teachings of the Buddha and the lessons of Martin Luther King and once to the cape where my brother has become an owner of a compound of two houses in Orleans (though they live in Chicago). I have keys and am invited to enjoy Spring and Fall trips on my own or with friends but have only made one in these covid times. No romance except with my lovely cat, a fact I am perfectly happy with at the moment, but often wonder what older age will bring without a partner. What I really need is a handyman. I renovated a 100 year old house in 2014 and am at the point of determining whether I really want to bother with a few more renos to make it a liveable one story (downstairs 1/2 bath to a full bath) or sell and move, preferably to a rental arrangement. No clue yet. I can’t say I’m “Happy”, but content suffices for the time being. Thanks for your continued sharing. I’d be interested to know how what your dating in January has culminated in. I recall there was a third date mentioned from one of the first. Your boys are men now, wild to think about that. I think your parenting style has ben valuable for them and will continue to be as they move through their own pace of maturing. Much love to you and the fam. Keep the words and feelings coming, Becky

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