By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
Dear Jack, this month will be different than I’d hoped – especially for you. Celebrating your 16th birthday is supposed to come with this wave of newfound freedom, a chance to get behind the wheel of your own life more than you ever have before.
When I turned 16, I remember how I strutted out to the driveway and climbed into the used car my parents had given me. For the first time, I was about to drive myself to school. Just me. All by myself. No nervous mother in the passenger’s seat sucking all the air out of the car every time I turned a corner.
I wouldn’t have admitted it, but I remember how nervous I was as I backed out of the driveway. It felt like I was on a high wire with no one there to catch me if I stumbled.
I aced the seven-minute drive to high school and pulled into a parking space like I was queen of the teenage world. I could practically feel myself morphing into a bona fide grown-up, knower of important things and provider of self-transportation. I could hardly wait for school to be over so I could do it again.
Even though you’re already a cool teenager, your 16th birthday won’t look anything like the one I had 30 years ago. Because of the global pandemic, you won’t get up and drive yourself to school. You won’t hang out with friends. You’ll be all licensed up with nowhere to go, except for maybe a drive-through lane. And the only people who will be at your party are the same people you’ve been cooped up with since the middle of March. (I’m guessing you might prefer a little LESS time with us by now.)
Even if restaurants or movie theatres are open again on your actual birthday, we won’t be there. I’m not willing to let our family be the guinea pigs who find out it might be too soon to resume normal life. We’ll be taking it nice and slow, just dipping a toe in while gloved and masked.
It will be strange – having a birthday symbolic of freedom at a time when most of the world is foregoing freedom for the sake of public health.
But I want you to know how grateful I am that our family quarantine includes you. As your dad and I often say, if our family is an Oreo cookie, then you are the creamy white center. You hold us together and make life sweeter.
Sandwiched between an older brother and younger sister, you’ve always instinctively known how to smooth out the rough edges of any situation. When we can’t agree on where to get take-out or which movie to watch, you’re often the one who negotiates the fair compromise. You’re always looking for an outcome that makes the maximum number of people happy.
Because you’re an extrovert in a family of homebodies, I’m sure this social isolation is probably harder on you than the rest of us. I know you miss the normal school day, Friday nights with friends, orchestra practice, and video game tournaments. I hope you can have all of that again soon.
But in the meantime, we’ll try to make your 16th birthday as special as you deserve for it to be. Thank you for always fixing my electronics when they go rogue. Thank you for explaining memes to me. Thank you for caring so deeply about other people’s health and happiness, especially your brother and sister. Thank you for chasing down the Beagle when he escapes the fence. Thank you for making us laugh.
And don’t worry. Even if it takes several months, we will have that party with your gang of friends. We’ll smuggle your favorite candies into the movies again one day. And you will drive to school next fall to start your junior year. Until then, happy birthday, son. You are so loved.