Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From LEGOs to college-bound, my son turns 18 February 9, 2012

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Notice the size of Caleb's hand when he was only 1 1/2 days old.

MY SON, my youngest, turns 18 today, a bittersweet day for this mom soon facing an empty nest after 26 years.

Caleb’s officially an adult now. But that doesn’t mean his dad and I will allow him to drive alone to Canada to check out the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg because we don’t have passports and he does. This would be his plan, not ours.

Yes, he’s strong-willed and smart, traits that will take him far in life. Yet those same qualities can frustrate the heck out of his parents who happen to know just a wee bit more than him, even if he doesn’t think that could be remotely possible.

I don’t want to focus on the struggles sometimes oftentimes waged between parents and teens. Rather, I want to celebrate my son. This will sound all trite and mushy and everything. But I value every day I have my boy in my life, even those days that challenge my parenting skills and patience.

You see, in 2006 Caleb was struck by a hit-and-run driver while crossing the street to his school bus stop. The panic that seared my soul on that morning is unlike any I’ve experienced. To those of you who have lost children, my very heart and soul ache for you. I cannot imagine a greater loss. (Caleb, by the way, suffered only minor injuries in the incident.)

With that background, you will understand why I tend to turn introspective on my son’s birthday.

This year I decided to pull out a three-ring binder filled with Christmas letters I’ve written through the years. These represent my family’s history, including interesting tidbits about my three children. Not to worry; I won’t give you a play-by-play of Caleb’s first 18 years of life. But I will pull out a few choice stories for your amusement.

Let’s start with his birth 18 years ago. Caleb arrived weighing 10 lbs, 12 oz., and stretching 23 ½ inches long. Yes, he was born via C-section. No, the hospital did not have diapers large enough to fit him. And, yes, I had to return a pack of under-sized diapers that a friend gave me prior to the big boy’s birth.

By age four, my son was taking things apart to see how they work—or asking me or his dad to do so—and was interested in all things space. Those interests continue. Saturday he placed first in the gravity vehicle race and third in the astronomy competition at the regional Science Olympiads. Sunday he dismantled my non-functioning computer monitor which now lies in a heap on the living room floor.

One of my all-time favorite photos of my son at age 5.

During his fifth year of life, Caleb blind-sided me and broke my heart by proclaiming that he loved his kindergarten teacher more than me. But the affair proved short-lived after Mrs. K caught him stuffing green beans into his milk carton at lunchtime.

About this same time, my boy discovered the joys of reading on his own and building with LEGOs. This may seem rather mundane to mention. But I am convinced that his strong interest in books and in LEGOs contributed to his academic success through the years.

By third grade, Caleb was reading books like The Benefits of Bacteria (hey, I’m not making this up) and had chosen his life’s profession as a rollercoaster designer. Today he’s planning a career in computer engineering. See how that works? If you’re the parent of a young child, you can foresee your child’s future in his/her current interests.

In 2005, my husband and I gave Caleb a bow and arrows and made him promise never to aim toward the neighbor’s house.

A year later, deep into computers, he began checking out thick manuals on Java Script and Html from the public library. He was only 12.

During these pre-teen years, Caleb became an accomplished unicyclist who managed to wipe out—enough to prompt a 911 call from a bystander—while riding a two-wheeled bicycle on a public bike trail. Go figure. We took seriously his mantra of “Caleb likes to live life on the edge.”

The following summer he broke his little finger while unicycling. No, he didn’t tumble from the unicycle, but rather jammed his hand into a parked car while riding on our driveway.

Caleb in a senior class picture I shot last fall.

And so, eventually we reach today, 18 years after his birth, to the man Caleb has become. At well over six feet, he towers over the rest of us and delights in reminding his sisters of his height and their shortness.

He’s smart and funny and loving (although I don’t get nearly as many hugs as I once did) and makes me proud. I can’t wait to see what the next 18 years bring for my precious boy, my son.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling