You’ll always be baby to me

By  Michele Faux, Catholic Register Special
  • August 28, 2008

{mosimage}There was a crib set up at my church. It wasn’t someone’s version of a crying room and it wasn’t going to replace the manger. This crib was meant to encourage donations for an organization that assists unwed mothers and their babies. People were encouraged to bring baby clothes, diapers and baby food.

I was excited about shopping for baby items. I had seen an ad for the cutest little sleeper sets and chattered away about my shopping plans to my husband as we drove away after Mass. “Why wouldn’t you just give money?” asked my husband the accountant, “and then you could get a tax receipt.”

The “fun” in fund-raiser had escaped him. Luckily, the other parishioners were more like me and the crib overflowed with donations.

My own baby just celebrated his 20th birthday and it has been a long time since I’ve bought baby clothes or tucked someone in at night. When he turned 10, I remember mourning the single digit years. Now that he’s 20, I’m simultaneously celebrating his adulthood and mourning my youth.

It helps to remember a birthday card someone sent me on my 50th. The card talked about how young 50 was but said I wouldn’t realize that until I turned 60.

Turning 20 doesn’t come with the rites of passage of earlier birthdays. What new 16-year-old doesn’t dream of driving? Eighteen-year-olds can vote and buy lottery tickets. They can even serve alcohol but not buy it unless they’re in Alberta or Quebec. Turning 19 opens the vice doors: alcohol, cigarettes and gambling.

The next milestone doesn’t come for five years after 20, when the insurance companies decide you’re finally an adult in the driving world and lower your rates. Turning 20 is just good for sound and feelings: you sound older and your mother feels ancient.

My “baby” is 20 and it sounds really silly to use that word for someone who is hulking and hairy. What do we call our children when they’re not children any longer? “Children” and “kids” sound like little people you would find in a playground, not sharing beer and conversation around the kitchen table. “Adult children” is an oxymoron. “Offspring” sounds biological and “descendants” genealogical. “Sons and daughters” is too formal and a mouthful to say.

Our children don’t have the same problem when they talk about us because “parents” are always “parents.” However, I do have memories of my younger brothers substituting the term “the fossils.”

My baby is 20 and the roles are reversing at our house. You can’t tuck someone in when you go to bed before they do. Children no longer creep into our room in the middle of the night. Instead, this mother sometimes does 3 a.m. room checks to make sure all have arrived home safely. And finally, since I’m the only person in the family who needs a stool to reach them, it might just be time to take the cookies down from the highest shelf in the kitchen.

(Michele Faux, a mother of five, is a Contributing Editor to The Catholic Register.)

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