Sep 08, 2023, 05:57AM

He’s 18

How is it possible, my baby boy.

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I don’t know how I’ll get through writing this article without crying. My son, the youngest of my four children and the only boy, is 18 today.

I was reminded of that fact somewhat brutally when I called the tattoo shop to make the appointment for the ink he asked for as his only gift. We’d gone to get tattoos together, his first, a few months ago. That day, I’d had to bring his birth certificate, so in making this appointment I asked if the paperwork was necessary again.

“It’s his 18th birthday that day?” they asked. I confirmed.

“Oh, he doesn’t need you anymore then.”

Then I walked into the ocean and drowned myself, and this column is now being haunt-written by the zombie of myself that now walks the earth to show up for graduations and weddings. RIP me.

I can’t change the fact that Bobby’s 18 today, and that in many ways, it’s true he doesn’t need me anymore. He’s six feet tall, an honors two-sport high school senior with a great job and a girlfriend. In spite of myself, I adore her. She’s changed him in a way I didn’t know to expect.

Everything in our family seems to revolve around Notre Dame football games, and my son was rushed out of the hospital and brought home in time to watch the Irish beat Michigan 17-10 with his father and grandfather. That first tattoo he got depicts the roman numerals I, II, III, IV because he's Robert E. IV (also number four in sports and the fourth kid); we sadly lost his grandfather the Notre Dame alum this year.

Bobby knows he was the “one last try for the boy” and is quick to remind the two middle sisters in our family that they “wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for him.” If my second child had been a boy, I’m not sure I would’ve kept having kids; his sisters remind him that he wouldn’t be around without them either. (No regrets; they're all amazing humans!)

I loathe gender stereotyping, but did find it true that raising a boy was very different than having raised three girls. I won’t say he’s a momma’s boy, but there were jokes about how he’d be able to start full-time school in first grade (or go off to college) if he was still nursing. I kept score as manager of his baseball teams for about a decade; when he was nine we spent a summer watching baseball movies together, and I remember crying the first night he went off to sleep in his own bed during nights when his dad was out of town.

I saw the t-shirt that says “Mama, Mommy, Mom, Bruh” and it’s true because that’s what I get called now, or even “Cuh.” It’s better now than in middle school when he’d just stomp around and mostly scoff and ignore me. My knowledge of the inner thoughts and emotions of women, and how to communicate with them via text message, is coming in handy as a resource, and I appreciate the effects growing up around four strong women have had on him.

There’s a recent photo that I took of Bobby and his girlfriend when we went to an Orioles game. I don’t know what it was about the picture but when I looked at it, it occurred to me that I wasn’t looking at my little boy anymore, I was looking at a man. A surreal moment of realization, as though my brain would only allow me to accept this in stages, first a photo, then maybe in real life. I still sleep on the Tow Mater pillowcase from his youth, so this isn’t going to be easy, figuring out how to be the mom of a man, still a little boy in my heart.


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