Single Mom Slice of Life:
A Birthday To Remember – Err…Forget!

Well, by the time you read this, my son will have reached and passed his 18th birthday.  A lot of lessons were learned, a few were literally beat into us, and most of them will be stories that will be retold for a few years to come.  Here is what we learned during what we now call: the-birthday-to-never-talk-about-ever-again-in-life.  (It’s a working title.)


Detail of colorful birthday candles recently blown where you see the smoke.

For I don’t know how many years, Nick has asked for one specific thing for his birthday.  Paintball.  The thrill of the game, the welts of revenge… he wanted it all.  And for years, I’ve said no.  I also said, “when you’re 18”… well… he was 18.  What a birthday boy wants – a birthday boy gets.  So he rounded up 10 of his closest friends, agreed to wake up before noon on a Saturday, and into the desert they headed.  (This section will be continued in the IT’S OKAY TO CRY/IT’S OKAY TO PANIC portion of this post.)

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At 18, you are of course, far too cool to show up anywhere with your mother, so he assured me his friends would drive him to the location.  I asked him, “do you have a plan B, a back-up plan?”  I was assured this wasn’t needed, and was politely asked to stop nagging.  He had the field reserved for 7, and as he was walking out of the house at 7:10 because his friends were late, his parting words were what every mother longs to hear:  “Fine, you were right, I was wrong – just don’t say anything.”

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The plan had been to meet up at a family friend’s house after paintballing.  There would be food, and carrot cake, and the party would continue.  It was a good plan – a solid plan… and then my kid hobbled in on the arm of his friend, limping.  Turns out, paintballing is a sport where you are supposed to suspend your reality and try to hurt as many people as humanly possible.  No?  Oh, well someone forgot to tell another player that because Nick’s knee was twice it’s normal size, rapidly changing colors, and judging from the tears in his eyes – it hurt like hell.  I was up, shoes on, and all but carried my six foot tall son to the car in a matter of seconds.  Yeah, I won’t lie.  I was in a panic.

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Let’s be honest – it doesn’t matter how old they are.  There is something about your son gritting his teeth in pain and holding onto the door handle until his knuckles turned white that makes you just want to… well… throw up.  He’s taller than me.  He’s broader than I am.  He’s my baby, and my baby hurt.  Not only that, but there wasn’t a single thing I could do about it.  After four hours, a set of x-rays, a knee immobilizer and a brand new set of crutches later, the diagnosis was a sprained knee and a partially torn ligament.  We have to wait until the swelling goes down to figure out exactly how much damage was really done.

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Yeah, while his friends continued to enjoy the birthday party of his dreams, Nick sat in an emergency room, completely upset that this had become his birthday.  Afterwards, he wanted to at least play video games, but was in so much pain – he slept.  His birthday has passed with a whimper, and he’s pissed about it.  But, the weekend is young, and cake is in the oven… so there’s a chance to salvage at least some of it.  Through it all, there was little I could do to help.  I changed ice packs, provided pain relievers, and all but drowned him with massive cups of ice water.

So, it turns out, no matter how old they are, they are still my babies.  What about you?  At what point did you realize that no matter what, this feeling of helplessness where your children were concerned just was never going to go away?  How did you deal with it?


Wendy Syler Woodward has been a single parent since 2002, with two boys ages 13 and 18. Originally from southern California, Wendy moved her family to Phoenix where she manages a law firm for work, writes for fun, and has returned to college for her B.A. Follow her on Twitter @WendySyler.

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