Monday, February 14, 2011

Eighteen – He Thinks He Knows What He Wants

By Christine Clark

It can be tough on a mom when the baby of the family reaches adulthood. Becoming an adult means different things to each teen, and the eighteenth birthday is the first milestone toward adulthood. My youngest turns eighteen on Thursday. He still depends on me in many ways because he does not graduate from high school until June, but several things will change when he turns eighteen. He mentioned some of those things to me recently when he asked for money as part of his birthday gift. He wants to buy some things one must be eighteen to purchase. His choices: a lottery ticket and a pack of cigarettes. He does not smoke, but wants to take advantage of all he thinks being eighteen affords him.
“How gross!” was my reaction to the cigarette purchase. Many family members have struggled with nicotine addiction, so I do not want to see him enmeshed in that poison. However, he does not plan to smoke a single cigarette. He has taken the warning about our addiction genes to heart; he just wants to buy some things that once were off-limits.
I understand the lottery ticket lure. He wants to take a chance and dream that his ticket will net a huge payoff. Gambling issues are not part of our particular genetic bag of sticks, so I am not concerned he will fritter away what little money he has. Lottery tickets and their teasers of the possibility of great riches are tempting. As long as he understands that for millions of players, a ticket purchase is akin to tossing dollar bills in the trash, education benefits notwithstanding, he will not have any gambling problems.
Being eighteen, however, affords him much more than being able to pursue nicotine and gambling vices. I wondered what else he can do. After only moments of research, I discovered several life-changing moves that go beyond lottery tickets and tobacco. Positive actions he can take to mark this milestone exist in abundance. Of course, because he is a male, he must register for selective service—the draft. Unlike in the 1970s, when registering held the scary prospect of fighting in Vietnam’s jungles, registering does not scare me. Further, he has his heart set on a military career, so he will register with pride and honor. However, the down side is that at eighteen, he can join any branch of the military he chooses. Also, neither his father nor I can prevent him from signing up before he attends college and we cannot choose the branch of the military we prefer.
Registering to vote is another adult privilege. I hope that after he buys a lottery ticket, he will register to vote. He is willing to give his life for our country, so I want him to have a voice in how it is run.
With privilege also comes responsibility. He will become legally liable for his actions, should those actions break the law. An infraction that might result in a youngster’s parents receiving a phone call could well result in a sojourn behind bars. He is focused on doing the right thing, so those bars will not be an issue for him. What else? He can get a driver’s license without my signature. He can buy property. He can get married. He can open bank accounts. He can get a credit card. He can work late hours. He can get a library card without me signing for it.
His life becomes his own in many ways. Medical records will be private. School records will be private. I experienced these changes with his sisters, but because they were older, I considered them simply rites of passage, as I do with him. However, I consider his rites of passage more deeply because he is the youngest.
I’m not a control-obsessed mom (from my perspective—my kids might disagree with that assessment), so I am ready for his transition into this first phase of adulthood. I will probably pay more attention because I know this is the last time I will experience this form of letting go. I also have learned from his sisters that as much as I let go, the bond between parent and child continues, even after that child becomes an adult.


  1. If Paul were to ask for my advice, I would advise him to go to college first and then enter the military. If he got into an ROTC program, he would go in as a commissioned officer. Life in the military and the pay is much better as an officer than as enlisted. At least that was my experience. Plus he would have more and better opportunities if and when he left the military.

  2. Bob,
    I agree and have encouraged Paul to attend college first. The Navy actually has a program whereby you attend college before you serve. Of course, Paul "knows" what he wants, despite mine and others' advice.