Teen-ager equals ... ?
I'm here to tell you: Teen-ager equals Grand Thing.
I write without irony. I write without sarcasm.
The day my son turned 18 was grand in itself. (Thankfully, I was not so overwhelmed with the daily this-and-that so as to miss the singular pleasure.)
No ''Where did the years go?'' will follow here, nor any ''Sunrise-Sunset'' sentimentality.
What I felt that day was sheer pleasure. There he was. He made it. It was satisfaction of the most fundamental kind.
Ancient stories and contemporary novels alike tell of women struggling as they see their allure fading, as their children grow. (Jealousy, treachery, loss.)
You could look at it another way. Not ''He's 18, and cripes, I'm really old,'' but, ''There stands proof of my sexual power.'' It is fully formed testimony.
So what if it refers to your sexual power of 19 years past? You thought you could hold onto it forever?
I enjoyed simply looking at the kid that day, so pleasing was it all.
Not that the world at large would notice this, of course.
When he walked out the door that day, would anyone see his new stature?
Well, scotch that dumb, motherly thread of fancy. He still had to go back to high school. He still had six more months of reporting to the old meat grinder.
In our ritual-deprived culture, 18 doesn't mean manhood, unless you're talking criminal charges or draft registration.
Our marker is high school graduation.
I wonder how many other parents sitting there at graduation felt as detached as I did.
Young speakers recalled travails such as the humiliations of middle school dances (Why go, anyway?) and joys such as madcap trips to Wal-Mart, wearing pajamas and sunglasses, to try to shoot footage. (Organized hilarity? Have to wash my hair tonight.)
Who are these kids?
How many members of the Class of 2000 were in the thick of this high school fun? Probably not a majority. Most, probably, just had to just get through. At the senior awards event, the same kids bounded up again and again. They were the ones who got whoops and cheers from the other kids, not the polite applause. (Although many adults seemed to lose interest in applauding the stars after they were called to collect their first half-dozen awards.) You notice that there are absolutely no awards given for, say, fabulous quirkiness.
You look at the yearbook, and you see the same faces and names over and over again. You'd think there were only three dozen kids in the class, not 200-plus. It was easy to spot my kid in the entrance processional. He was the tallest. You could also have identified him by saying, ''He's the one who looked like a condemned man.'' That's a joke -- but boy, did I recognize that look of submittal. I used to have that myself.
The bad part of the graduation ritual is that it in effect ignores that a lot of kids who, like my son turned 18, are spectacular beings.
The good part of it is having occasion to say to more kids than just my own, ''This is where it starts to get good.'' Even though they must know that, it was a chance to say, ''You -- you're great.''
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