Today you turned 18.
I lay in bed last night and didn’t sleep. I wrestled with memory and hope and fear and excitement and terror.
Just over 18 years ago your father and I were living in a one-room shack, 10 miles outside of Palmer, a small town in Alaska. The shack sat in the middle of a crop of lucerne. There was no power and no running water.
Outside the window the fireweed was in flower. We had been in Alaska four months, climbing, hiking, kayaking, travelling, and using this tiny shack as our base. Summer was fading, fall approaching, and there was a pulsing urgency in the air, everything, me included, was pregnant.
Each evening I walked through the lucerne. There, my horizon hemmed by rearing mountains, I tried to reconcile myself to the thrumming life inside me.
Back in Australia, and you arrived with the same urgency as an Alaskan fall. The mystery of you was revealed as soon as you were lifted onto my belly and we locked eyes. I was 24 years old, out of step with my world, unsure of my career, but consumed by you.
Now, 18 years later and I am still as unsure about being a mother as I was when you were born. Your coming of age has taken me by surprise. I would even go as so far as saying I’m not ready. But you’re ready and this is what pulls me up.
When you were tiny I could never imagine you crawling and when you were crawling I could never imagine you walking and the same with talking and reading and spelling and going to school and every small milestone you effortlessly achieved – all of those I couldn’t imagine. And now you are 18 and I can’t imagine it. At least I’m consistent.
How did you do that?
It’s no wonder I can’t sleep. Memories churn. You sitting on my lap, my swollen belly, pregnant with your brother making it hard for you to fit. Your shaking five-year old weight still heavy. The grief of you. Your father dead.
When you were eight, we negotiated (and I say negotiated as we were travelling with a three year old) our way across the UK, France and Italy. The maturity of you. At 14, a move from our home, family and friends across Bass Strait to a new life in Tasmania. Again, you found your way.
Why should I fear for your 18-year-old self?
Motherhood. The sudden, heated, animalistic compulsion to protect. Always, your safety, your wellbeing, the things you needed – ponies and puppies and wide open spaces and books and talking and things to draw - all those thing I can give you, have given you.
But now you are 18 and I can no longer protect you.
This is important and necessary. You make the choices. The mistakes and the successes are yours. And that’s the terror. I have to stand here and let you find your way. And this could mean, probably means, watching you fail.
You may make the wrong choices. But what I want to brand on you, what I want to sear into your flesh, is to make the wrong choices for the right reasons. Don’t choose to do something because it’s expected of you. Don’t be a hideous ‘stat’, some notch on a boy’s bedpost. Don’t be forced into doing or being something you are not.