I have four children, each of whom has reached some significant milestones this year: Wyatt, the 6-year-old, started first grade; Lucas, who’s 9, began his first “job” (an aspiring thespian and filmmaker, he’s an intern at a children’s theatre); and 12-year-old Eliza, my only girl, got her first period. (Three days in: “Mom, I don’t like this.” Sorry, honey.)

But none of these “firsts” can top the one achieved by Will, my first-born: Just yesterday, he turned 21.

Will is a great kid. He’s in his last year at Tufts University, majoring in biomedical engineering. For his senior thesis he’s turning silk into a film and embedding it with temperature sensors, the idea being that the thermometer-ized silk-film can be used to monitor changes in internal organs. (Apparently the human body will not reject silk.) He’s a sweet, geeky young man who has yet to find a girlfriend (although he has plenty of girl friends), who has a passion for manga and all things Japanese, and who really wants to learn to cook, so for his birthday I’m treating him to the course of his choice at the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, New York. Knowing Will, he’ll want me to take the class with him: He’s the kind of kid who enjoys the company of his mother, and for that I count myself especially lucky.

But here’s my real point: If my son is now officially an adult, it means that I’m officially the mother of an adult — and I’m not quite sure how I feel about that. Old? Sad? Depressed? Relieved? I remember very clearly the day Will turned 13, and I found myself walking around thinking, “Oh, my God, I’m the mother of a teenager!” Same thing when he started high school, “Oh my God, I have a kid in high school.” Ditto the day I helped him make up his first dorm room bed with brand-new, freshly-laundered, extra-long sheets: “My kid is in college! Yikes.” On each of those occasions what I mostly felt was shock: How could I possibly be this old?!

I suppose it’s a sign of late-onset maturity — or perhaps just resignation — but my new status as the-parent-of-a-grown-up has unleashed a considerably less narcissistic response than did my new status as the mom of a teenager or college kid. What I feel most prominently on Day Two, as I wait for Will to arrive from school for his birthday weekend, is pride. That 8-pound-11-ounce bundle who the obstetrician plucked from my womb (yep, C-section) 21 years and 1 day ago, has become a fully-formed human being with a good heart, a great sense of humor, a career path that he’s chosen out of passion, an admirable set of values, and some political views his liberal mom can get behind. So I’m not freaking out about the fact that as my child ages I do too. (It helps to have that first grader still in the house.) I’m merely reflecting on how lucky I am to have such a wonderful person in my life. My son is an adult, tonight we will toast his birthday with champagne that legally he will be allowed to sip in public, and I will feel not old or washed-up or full of self-pity for finding myself the 51-year-old parent of an adult.

Check back with me when I become a grandmother.


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  • mary duffy October 15, 2011 at 11:25 am

    congratulations on raising a son who is following his passion, has a good heart and enjoys your company. very nice piece.

  • Alexa Garbarino October 14, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    Lovely piece, Maura – the fact that your adult son will likely want you to join him in his cooking class says a lot about you as a mother and how you raised such an exceptional young man…

  • ellen friedman October 14, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    don’t have children, but i appreciate a well-written piece. and of course, as a middle-aged woman, i mark milestones (although school holidays don’t have much significance for me).

  • Lynn Carhart October 14, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    As an older mother with younger children (6 and 9) I have often thought that it was my children being still, well, children that kept me feeling younger than my years. But your articles helped me see that it is my attitude that determines my age. Thanks for the insight.

  • Sena Messer October 14, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    Your piece touched a chord with me. When my son survived his 21st birthday celebration last month, I felt both a rush of relief and a twinge of “I can’t be that old” syndrome. But, like you, these spasms of worry and wistfulness were quickly eclipsed by a huge surge of pride. My son may not be “launched” or know exactly what he wants to do after college but I know he’s heading in the right direction. Congratulations on having such a wonderful milestone to celebrate!

  • Denise October 14, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    Hi Maura! Can’t believe that Will is 21! Congrats on his bday and your new gig, too.

    I came across your post as I was linking to the story that Whole Living did with Dr Allen in September.

    (Doesn’t she look gorgeous in the shot?) I mention it in my blog today.

    Take care! -Denise Maher, senior editor, Whole Living

  • Linda Rodgers October 14, 2011 at 11:46 am

    If I can approach the mother of all milestones with half the grace you show, I’ll consider myself lucky! You’re a great inspiration–and this is a lovely piece! Enjoy the milestone and the celebration(s).

  • Hilly Ephros October 14, 2011 at 11:38 am

    What a beautiful piece! I do understand why Will enjoys his mother’s company, both he and she are lucky and deserving. Having celebrated my daughter’s 19th birthday last night, I relate to Maura’s feelings – it’s really not much different from the dad’s perspective. As we move through time, our rewards keep changing as do the challenges, but there’s a special joy in watching a remarkable adult emerge from a child full of potential.

  • Paula Scott October 14, 2011 at 10:35 am

    Pride — perfect word choice. All well said, very moving. And who better to capture it than someone who can look @ the full breadth from first grader to this amazing milestone, all at once?

  • Susan Kaufmann October 14, 2011 at 10:13 am

    I have 2 years until my child turns 21, and I am wondering if I’ll be as calm and gracious about it…

  • Susan Carlton October 14, 2011 at 9:52 am

    This piece really resonated with me–I love/admire the idea of moving from narcissism (I’m so old!) to pride (s/he is so great!). Great insight…

  • Andrea Messina October 14, 2011 at 9:34 am

    I, too, have found myself doing the “Oh my god, I have a child who’s in high school/taller than I am/gotten her period/beyond me in math.” Your approach is way more graceful than mine has been so far. Thanks for this thoughtful, celebratory reflection–and happy birthday to both of you!

  • Melissa Balmain October 14, 2011 at 8:41 am

    A lovely piece. (Late-onset maturity sounds like a good thing. I hope I get some!)

  • roz warren October 14, 2011 at 8:15 am

    An adult son who enjoys his mother’s company is indeed wonderful. Not only that, it sounds like once he’s become a gourmet chef, thanks to your gift, he’ll be happy to cook for you too!

  • Patricia Yarberry Allen October 14, 2011 at 7:57 am


    Here at http://www.womensvoicesforchange.org we celebrate the vitality of women who do not focus on any age number but on the collections of memories and growing wisdom we have earned that in no way interferes with being a sexy elegant woman. You are clearly on that path since you have the joy of being the mother of an adult son of whom you are justly proud.

    Have a lovely celebration with your son.

    Dr. Pat