Happy 18th Birthday, Eli: A Letter


Today you turned eighteen. Happy Birthday! I cannot believe we are here. I absolutely love being your mom. I love seeing how you and all your fellow young humans interact with the world. “Ok. Boomer,” indeed. I love how you love bouldering and rock climbing. I love how you write. I love how you lead. I love to see how others look up to you, like that one kid who gave a speech about you at the Cross Country dinner. I love how you are loved. I love that the mom of a girl you once dated still sends me thoughts about how cool she thinks you are. This week she thinks you will make an excellent teacher. I love how Mr. Bracken’s voice lovingly cracks when he talks about you. I even love when Coach Winn says things like, 

“You know I want to wring his neck, but it is Eli and we will make it work.”

Eli at his Senior Year Cross Country Banquet

Don’t worry, Eli. I promise, this next part is not mean. It comes with so much love and empathy. See, Eli, I will also admit there are times for both your dad and I when watching your transition into adulthood is tough (at best). I know you know that right now we are in the throes. Rest assured, your dad and I (literally) fight so you can have the very best and so you can be the very best. We want you to have a better, emotionally healthier, life than we had. And we hope you will want the same for your own kids. Yes. I said “your” kids. You will make an excellent dad. Um, but please not someday soon. 

Hey Eli, because of you, Dad and I are also working on unity and perspective. We are both sorry we are not better. It is often your stillness that snaps Dad & me back. In those moments, we see you. You are powerful. Your strength is stunning. Thank you for reaching us. 

By the way, we (are all old people boomers now to you guys?) well, we boomers (Gen X’ers, please) also recognize that we are now the observers. We are the parents. We are your parents. We had our moment. And because we were once 18, hopefully, we can also help. Please know that our helping means not dismembering your soul, but instead, aiming you toward self-reliance, 

Eli, Moab, Utah, September, 2006

Eli, I know you know we make so many mistakes. The process is less than smooth. Remember Kyle? Remember that week he thought I was Satan for suggesting there were other colleges to consider beyond the one his then-girlfriend was planning to attend? Remember how we all quietly tip-toed around his super determined emotions? Remember all of the fights Kyle, Dad and I had about finishing his college essays? OMG, those damn essays! Remember how hot Kyle thought New York University Abu Dhabi was and that only a completely insane person, who likes super hot temperatures, would go to a college like that? Don’t worry if you don’t remember. Kyle doesn’t either.

Eli, The Winter Olympic Park, Park City, Utah, July 2013

That is the cool thing about these moments. They pass. We forget. The intensity subsides. That is why I think it is also ok to sit in this moment now. It is ok that this moment is filled with big emotions (from all those involved). I think big emotions reflect big decisions and also reflect how absolutely amazing you are. It is ok to look around and remember what your life is like now. It is ok to think about your friends.  It is ok to want to hold onto every last drop. It is ok to be totally freaked out that you are all moving on. It is ok to shut down. It is ok to force yourself to face that you are now 18.  

Eli & Kyle, NYU Abu Dhabi, October, 2019

Eli, we are here for you. We have your back. I am far less than perfect. In times when you say, “I want my freedom, but I want you to still do my laundry and pay for my gas,” please know that I am not sure how to respond. I want to give you everything. I also want you to know how to take care of yourself. In these contrary moments, please know that I try to take endless deep breaths, often asking myself between inhales and exhales,

“Beth, are you even doing any of this parenting stuff right? And really, is there a right way to let go?”

 I do not have an answer, so I do a lot of watching. Daily, I watch you try to navigate and process the realities that your college applications are coming due, that you need to finish your Common App essays. I get that  high school is nearing its end, and adulting is just around the corner. In fact, technically, Eli, you became an adult today. I know you will learn to fly. You are amazing! You are resilient. Eli, I also see your agony, excitement, fear and indecisiveness. Honestly, I think the process is actually kind of cool. 

Eli, Glasgow, Scotland, July, 2019

Here is the nudge. Even though theoretically I know you will be ok, knowing how to let go, or better, how to facilitate this transition, is far from an exact science. 

Let’s break it down. Typically when you are stressed out, it seems like you either snap or retreat, or snap, then retreat. Up until now, I think we have learned to bob and weave through these uncomfortable times. It is easy. Eli, you are a great kid. You always regroup quickly. You are also a great reflector, which helps me see how especially hard this moment is. 

Eli, Isle of Oronsay, Isle of Skye, Scotland, July, 2019

If it helps, with all these high impact decisions staring back at you, your freak outs and retreats understandably seem to come rapid fire. Regrouping is not as easy. I am sure I do not help. There are days when my words cut hard. There are days when I watch in shock. Those are the days my heart breaks and my brain hurts. Of course there are moments I also want to throttle you and scream, 

“Eli, you can do this! Don’t give up. Stop making excuses! You have got this! Please don’t be me. Please don’t give up on yourself! Be you and fly!” 

When you are discouraged, I also want to remind you about when you broke your jaw a few years ago. I want to remind you about your courage. I want to say (maybe I should): 

“Eli, your jaw was broken clean through in two spots. It was horrific! Most significantly, your jaw was broken from your chin clean through your right canine. The fracture pushed out your tooth. We had to wait a few days for your surgery. During that time, don’t you remember that because pain pills had no effect how the dentist (our friend’s lovely dad) gave you shots of novocaine a few times a day — just so you could bear the pain? Then, don’t you remember that when the numbness had worn off how the orthodontist put your wires back in? (They had to do this because the surgeon and orthodontist  devised a plan to use your existing braces to wire your jaw shut.) In an excruciating ten to fifteen minutes, the orthodontist closed the large large gap in your jaw bone while you sat unmedicated. You didn’t even wince. Remember that, Eli? Please remember you have the strength of many!”

Eli getting Novocaine shots for days before jaw surgery, Salt Lake City, UT, February, 2017
Eli being taken off the mountain after his ski accident, Snowbird, Utah, January, 2017

I want to give you advice so it doesn’t have to be so hard. Right now I am not sure you can hear it. Nevertheless, I am human. In the moments I am actually able to stop myself from flooding you with my wisdom (*that was a joke), here is the self-help/self-control talk looping in my brain: 

“Beth, he needs to figure this out on his own. He is capable. Let him be. Let him figure it out. He will be ok. He is amazing.”

Of course, during this time, you know the time I shut my mouth, I also find all my “feels” seeping out. The “feels” kind of hurt (in a good way), yet I think I find it is often more comfortable to ramble on then feel the feeling that my Baby Eli is leaving the nest. Eli, my love for you literally takes my breath away. These breathless moments are probably why I long (and would rather be talking so I can hide from them). I long for lighter days. I long for easier moments. I long for the same endless request, “Mommy, can I have a popsicle.” I long for made-up-on-the-spot jokes, or stories about dinosaurs that are, “big, and giant,” [insert long pause with a toddler jump here], “and fluffy,” just so you can stay up — just a little longer. I yearn for your little scratchy voiced, “I love you, Mommy.” I can hear your cadence. I can see your cute little face. I think of the years Dad worked in San Francisco. Kyle was starting high school. You seemed to understand how hard this time was. You were sweet and interested. I loved our walk-talks, even though you never wanted to be on them until they were almost over. I loved your observations. I loved that you understood Kyle was on the other side of puberty and that he was trying to figure out his hormones — (OMG!) I loved that you promised, 

“Mom, I will never be like that.”  (It is ok that in your own way, you were.)

Eli, Durdle Door, along the Jurassic Coast, England, June 2017

In these wistful moments, I remind myself that I am the parent and I suggest (to myself) that I use my longing as a kind of a warm, fuzzy memory blanket, a comforter, so-to-speak, a snuggly throw that will carry us through. 

Eli, now that we are wrapped in my memories, I want you to know that see you. I loved you from the second I heard your loud and powerful cries. I loved how you took tiny stickers and spent hours covering your body with them. I love how you put a Band-Aid on your nose and left it there. You thought it was so funny. You were not even two. Eli, you are brilliant. 

Eli, Oahu, February, 2007

In my eyes now I see you. You are wearing that red tracksuit. It was so awesome! You are barely 3 years old. Your hair is super blond and your eyes are beautiful blue. I have been looking for you for about five minutes. After settling a totally spazzed out Kyle, I remember I looked on the far side of your very tall bed, between the bed and the wall. There, I find you. You have taken a pillow from your bed and laid it on the floor. With your arms tucked up behind your head, you are resting your head on the pillow. I joyfully say,

“Hey, Eli. There you are. I found you!” Then, because I adore how you say it, I borrow your own phrase and ask, “What doing?”

You look over at me with a loving and contemplative smile, pause, look away and look back. Then you sweetly say, “Mommy, I am thinking.” 

Me & Easy E, Reservoir Park, Salt Lake City, Utah — a long time ago

And Eli, it is those memories, those self-reflective moments that always came so naturally to you, which remind me that you will be ok. Way to self-decompress. Namaste, my son. I love you.