I sit here a little teary-eyed thinking about your 18th birthday. Today you are officially a man. Legally able to make your own decisions. Face your own consequences. Vote (so go register)! Sign a contract. Get your own apartment. Buy your own car. Buy cigarettes (but please don’t). Gamble (in some states). Play the lottery. Join the military. Get married (but please wait). And more. It’s such a big, monumental occasion. I hope we prepared you well for whatever the future may hold for you.
I still remember, vividly, the first time I met you. You’re dad and I had just started dating and we were camping with some friends. Dad brought you out to the campground. You were just 13 months old. You had the cutest little cheeks and this little rolly polly belly. You’re foot was wrapped in gauze because, always curious and a risk-taker, you accidentally pulled a curling iron off the bathroom counter at your mom’s house. You toddled around through the grass, staying close to Dad, a little curious as to who all these people were. Curious who I was.
A few months later you moved in with us for a bit while your mom looked for a new place. I changed your diapers (although I mostly pushed that chore off to dad ’cause yuck ), worked with your mom to get you off the bottle and drinking out of a sippy cup, and even attempted potty training a time or two (although you were having none of it). I was young, and not nearly as patient as I should have been, but having you in my home was such an amazing experience. You were this adorable little boy with the most beautiful eyes and cutest blond hair. You had a smile that lit up a room and melted hearts. You would nuzzle with us on the couch (and then wake us up entirely too early). You would laugh with this most infectious laugh when we tickled you. And you loved to play basketball with that little toddler basketball set Dad bought you.
When Keaton was born you were an awesome big brother. You loved playing with him and (usually) were very good about sharing your toys. You were a protective big brother; loved to show him off and worried about him when he got hurt. Keaton couldn’t have asked for a better big brother and best friend!
When you were around four, you and your mom moved to Wisconsin. It was very sad for us. We missed getting to see you all the time. But before you started school, you mom let you come visit us for long stretches. And once you started school we tried to pack as much as we could in to holidays, Spring Break, and the summer. It was such a treat to get to spend that time with you; coloring Easter eggs, celebrating your birthday, watching the fireworks on the 4th of July, cheering you on in the annual kids run, seeing the excitement in your eyes on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, going to Adventureland, Disney World, and the waterpark, watching movies in the theater and at home, and just getting to spend time with you. When I was pregnant with Caleb I took all of you kids to one of my early doctor appointments so you could hear Caleb’s heartbeat. You were just 9-years-old. I don’t think you (or any of the other kids) fully understood what that swish, swish, swish sound was, but it was an awesome moment for me to have ALL of you kids there. Even when you didn’t live here full-time you were always an important member of this family.
In sixth grade, your mom and dad decided to switch custody and you came to live with us. Words cannot express how thrilled we were to have you in our home full-time. For the first time in years we got to be a big part of your life. We were there to help you with homework. Attend your school events; conferences, track and field day, basketball games, and then later, football and golf. We got to watch you perform in band, playing your trumpet, and later we go to listen to you practice that bass guitar. And we enjoyed watching your faith grow as you were baptized and then confirmed. And you got to be a big part of all of our events; the kids’ birthday parties, Halloween, Mother’s Day, Dad’s graduation, Easter in Chicago with Grandma Cathy, plays at the local community theater, family dinners, etc.
We got to experience many firsts with you. I taught you how to drive (even though my heart did skip a little beat when you almost slid in to that handicap sign). We saw you through driver’s ed and then Dad got to take you to the DOT for you driver’s license. We got to see you play football with professionals at Tim Dwight’s football camp. When you had your first dates I was half tempted to secretly follow you to the skating rink and the movie theater (but I didn’t…I promise). We were thrilled to be able to send you on many trips, including church trips to New Jersey and Texas and your school trip to Washington D.C. And I was honored to have you accompany me on that trip to Chicago for that Ford event.
I’m not going to lie. Last summer when you decided to move back to Wisconsin, it was heartbreaking for us. And to be honest, I still feel like it was a bad decision and you were running away. Running away from our structure and our rules that [like any average teenger] you didn’t want to follow. I’m not going to apologize for coming down on you so hard. Or for doing everything I could think of to help you. I care about you. I worry about you. My heart breaks for you when I see you making decisions that you still can’t completely grasp how fully they will effect your adult life. But I also know that you have a wonderful, big heart and you are a very intelligent
young man adult. And I have faith and I know you will overcome these bumps in your road and you will be just fine.
It has truly been an amazing 18 years. Thank you for allowing me to be part of your journey. Thank you for being truly the best stepson a stepmom could ask for. Thank you for everything from our screaming matches to our hugs and I love yous. I look forward to seeing where you go next and being a part of your future. I do now, and forever and always will, love you from the bottom of my heart. Happy 18th Birthday Justis! I wish you the best!