Published in on February 16, 2009

Saturday night, the 13th, was Alex’s Junior Prom and I had butterflies in my stomach. I guess it really is different when things happen to your child than when it does to you. My son was as cool as a cucumber the whole day, lazing in his bed and reading a book, totally self-assured and confident. He was completely oblivious to the stress I was feeling. I was the one who was a wreck. I worried about his clothes, the shine in his size 11 shoes, his untamed unibrow, his hedgehog hair, and the wrist corsage and bouquet of flowers his father ordered for his date. I even worried about the little skin imperfections that marred what used to be perfectly flawless baby skin.

I envy the confidence of teenagers. Adolescence is the time when the whole world lies perfect and open and ready before you. It is an age of optimism and hopefulness. It is a time when all your potentials and possibilities seem endless. I guess I used to be like that, too — full of dreams and imaginings, unscarred and unscathed, unafraid and unbowed. And now, here I am, inching my way through midlife, and I can’t imagine how it is to be a teenager anymore.

I attended my Junior Prom 26 years ago, in 1984. I have one picture from that night, the only one I could still find. In it, a slightly overweight, long-haired young girl in a purple dress smiled shyly for the camera, a bright-eyed, shiny-faced adolescent boy in a gray suit, most probably borrowed from his father, standing beside her. I was 16 in that picture, too young to have ever had my heart broken (it would be a few more months before that happened). The young man beside me, with pimples and sculptured bangs, was my best friend. He would become my husband.

I look at that picture now and wonder: what was I thinking then?  What was he thinking in that picture? And how did we get from there and then to here and now without falling into the crevice of unalterable life-dooming mistakes? I close my eyes and try to put myself back in that particular point in time, without success.

And this is where I find my worries multiplied a thousandfold today. For even now, as I write this, I am planning days and months and years ahead, trying to make a life plan for a child whose desire to coast happily along life is perhaps equaled only by his carefree, laid-back ways. My first born, at 17, is clueless to the pitfalls and snares of this cruel life, and I am afraid to let him go.

Were it up to me, I would put Alex in a bubble. I would shield him from mistakes, screen him from pain, and protect him from anyone who would damage his heart and spirit. And yet, I try to remember that in a distant time, I was once young too. And perhaps, having made the mistakes I did — of falling too fast and too hard, of rushing headlong into decisions, of being impulsive and reckless as only the young can be — and facing the consequences of my actions, whether good or bad, squarely, I am all the wiser for it.

I can’t stop time, no more than I can stop my child from wanting to grow his own wings. And so I resolve to embrace it, trepidation and fear giving way to a brave hope that my husband and I have taught our son well and the lessons we have passed on to him have taken root. It’s the only way a parent can survive growing-up and growing-old pains. I am afraid still, but I am always hopeful.