Life Is Rough When You Know Too Much

by Tina Blue
February 3, 2001

          My 21-year-old son Michael is one of those people who is all too uncomfortably aware of what novelist John Barth calls "the nuances of things." Most children look forward to passing the milestones along the road to adulthood, but Michael has always understood that every transition is as much about loss as about gain.

          Even as a young child, Michael was unusually sensitive to the darker implications of what most people would consider sunny events.

          For example, near the end of his kindergarten year, Michael expressed concern over starting first grade in the fall. He was worried that people would try to pressure him into using drugs and alcohol! (Okay, he was a bit ahead of things, since those pressures normally kick in during junior high. But he got the principle right, even if he was a bit confused about the timetable.)

          Michael has fairly severe asthma. About three weeks before his tenth birthday, he had to spend five days in the hospital recovering from a frightening episode of respiratory distress, and for more than a week after he came home, he was still pretty weak.

          So when he seemed distracted and quiet, even solemn, on the day before his tenth birthday, I started to worry. I was afraid he wasn't feeling well, and I certainly did not want the little guy to spend his birthday in the hospital--especially a "milestone" birthday.

          But I had misread his somber demeanor. His problem wasn't physical at all, as I learned that night when, just before his bedtime, he began to weep quietly.

          "What's wrong, Honey?" I asked.

          "Do you realize," he responded, "that this is my very last night as a single-digit age?"

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