This week, my eldest, my man-child, turns 19. He will have been an adult for a whole year. In that time he’s gone from a schoolboy to an apprentice. It’s been a big year for him.
When my son turned 18, he had just finished his A Levels. He actually had his prom on his 18th birthday. Less than two months later, he blew us all away with his A Level results. Having coasted for pretty much his entire school career, his results were incredible and proved just what he was really capable of.
Turning 18 meant my son could embrace his love of travel. He wants to see the world and he also really likes planes. He wants to travel on as many different types of plane as possible – and particularly wanted to go on an A380 – the world’s biggest passenger aircraft. Three days after his 18th birthday, he went to Amsterdam with his girlfriend. A few weeks later, they had a day trip to Dublin. In the autumn, he went to Krakow with my husband. Just after Christmas, he went to Germany. (This is all at odds with my environmental beliefs, but the problem with parenting an adult is that you can’t tell them what to do so easily.)
Sadly, my son’s relationship with his girlfriend fizzled out last autumn. They’d been together nearly two years. Of course it upset him at the time (and us too), but he soon bounced back.
My son didn’t go to university. It was his own decision and I’m glad. University would have been completely the wrong choice for someone who has never enjoyed schoolwork. So at the end of August, my son started his apprenticeship. And he took to it like a duck to water. My son has always been a hard worker at work (although never at school). He has always got on very well with adults too, so an apprenticeship was perfect for him. He has settled in really well, although, true to form, always tends to be running a bit behind with the actual college work side. His initial apprenticeship is for two years, then he should be able to go on to work for a degree. All being well, he will have a degree within five years of leaving school, not to mention five years’ work experience and no massive debts! I’m also proud that he cycles to work every day, whatever the weather. He doesn’t wish to spend a fortune on a car and, with lots of other pressures, we don’t have time to be giving him a lift every day.
As a parent, the weird thing about having a son at work is that I don’t know how he’s getting on – other than what he tells me. It seems obvious, but there are no parents’ evenings for an apprenticeship. He’s an adult now – his successes are entirely his own, as are his failures. If he’s excelling at something or struggling with something, the only person who is going to get told about it is my son – not his parents!
I did wonder how it would differ having an adult ‘child’ in the house. How do you parent an adult? To be honest, it’s not much different from parenting a 17 year old. Clearly I can’t tell him what to do all of the time because he is an adult. But, on the other hand, he is still living under our roof, so has to treat the house and the people in it with basic respect and courtesy. As he is still a teenager, I must admit some of those things are still a work in progress… But the good news is that he is still happy to spend a lot of time with us and has been joining us for family walks throughout lockdown. I was particularly touched that he opted for a family day out the day before he started his apprenticeship, rather than a day out with his friends or his then-girlfriend.
Sadly, since he left school, my eldest’s relationship with his brother and sister has declined. School was the glue which held them together – for the last two years he was at the same school as my daughter and just the fact that he went to school (even though it was a different one) was something in common with his brother. Without that bond, their relationship has suffered. As an adult who goes out to work every day (or did before lockdown), he can’t relate to a ‘childish’ life revolving around school, ballet and endless sport. He has never had a great relationship with my daughter, but used to have a good relationship with my son, and I hope he gets that back at some point. The younger two are always telling me I should tell him off more, but that is definitely one of the difficulties of parenting an adult – how much telling off is helpful and how much is too much?
In March, all of my son’s plans came together and he went on a big adventure to Singapore, Malaysia and Australia. That is a long way for an 18-year-old to go. He flew out with one friend, meeting up with another friend (who had flown over from Australia) in Singapore. They had a brilliant week of travel, seeing the sights and living the backpacker lifestyle. I had been worried about him going anyway, but even more worried as coronavirus was just starting to become a big problem all over the world. But the photos he sent home every day reassured me that he was having the time of his life. And he even got to go on an A380. Then one friend flew home and he flew on to Australia with his other friend. As soon as they arrived, it felt like the world had changed – they arrived just hours before Australia shut its borders. A couple of days later, his flight home got cancelled. He ended up flying home a few days early, after only three days in Australia. He had a brilliant time, but even he agreed that he should have just cut his losses and not gone to Australia at all.
When he arrived home, my son was forced to work from home – partly because he’d been in airports and aeroplanes all over the world, and partly because increasingly people were following government advice and working from home anyway. Then he was furloughed – all the way through April, May and June. He starts work again next week (although still at home). Lockdown has been hardest on my eldest. He hasn’t been able to take the pleasure in walking or running that the rest of us have and has found it harder to entertain himself at home. He has been sleeping until 1 most days because he’s got nothing to do. It’s good news that he will be back to work and routine as soon as he turns 19.
It’s been a big year for my boy and he has really made the most of it. He already has more travels planned for the coming year. Happy birthday, 19 year old boy!