Birthday blues and brights |

Birthday blues and brights

Alex Miller

So, are we supposed to cheer or mourn when the oldest turns 21?A little bit of both, I suppose.In a moment of quintessentially parental wet-blanketism, I recently told the soon-to-be-old-enough-to-buy-alcohol-legally daughter that this landmark age does not signal a time to run amok but, rather, to assess one’s place in the world, recognize one’s maturity and plan for the future.To which she dutifully replied something like “Sure, I understand” while mentally marching into the local liquor store brandishing her now-infinitely-more-valuable driver’s license. There, she will announce to the clerk her desire to buy something spirited without having to endure airport-level security checks. There comes a time in every kid’s life where the safety nets fall away, the moorings are left behind and we head out into the world to make it or break it on our own. The ages between high school graduation and the mid 20s or so are the toughest the times when we proclaim our freedom – sometimes defiantly and obnoxiously – yet swoop back into the nest on occasion for food, money, laundry and a dose of grief from the ‘rents wondering why we don’t stop by more.Still, 21! The wife and I firmly recall being that age ourselves just a couple of years ago. That’s what makes it all the more frustrating when the Newly Emancipated One gives us those predictable lines and looks to convince us that we couldn’t possibly have any idea what she’s going through.It’s nothing new, but it’s still pretty weird. And there’s nothing like being forced to look into a mirror like that for making one feel old.Heartache aside, it’s still a magic age if ever there was one. And it’s not just the booze thing. Suddenly, you’re at an age where almost nothing is barred from you on account of your number of trips around the sun. Sure, you might have a few more years to go before you can run for president or get cheaper rates on your car insurance, but you can buy a beer, go to war, vote, see the filthiest movies available, rent a car, check into a hotel by yourself, etc. All the pitfalls of that freedom are there as well, of course, but the 21-year-old pays as much attention to those perils as the skydiver does about plane accident statistics. Invulnerability comes with the age, as does the delightful knowledge that you are, indeed, the first person EVER to experience all these wonderful things! Weeeeeeee! The debt, the hangover, the knowledge that you’re a cog in a wheel and a drop in the ocean will all come later.It’s difficult, as a parent, to bite our tongues and let the mistakes happen. At some point, it becomes obvious that nothing we say or do will deter the Newly Emancipated One from pursuing whatever path she chooses (or stumbles onto). Most of us have stories of how our own parents were disappointed in the choices we made; some of us may even have been excommunicated because of them.But barring those who commit awful crimes or betray family trust, it doesn’t last forever. Young adults start to come to their senses later in the 20s, and they often even get to the point where they can have a conversation with their parents that doesn’t involve arguing, eye-rolling or martyr-talk. It’s a nice time when it comes, as I recall from my experience with my own parents.Coincidentally, my birthday, my wife’s and the eldest daughter’s all fall in a row every January. This weekend, we’ll turn 42 as she hits 21; we’ll pretend it didn’t happen while she goes out and celebrates. Birthdays, like everything else, are in the eye of the beholder. Enjoy them while they’re enjoyable, and when they get to be troublesome, well, there’s always botox, lies and liposuction.Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14625, or Daily, Vail, Colorado

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