Although I'm a longtime fan of daytime dramas, I've often made fun of the super growth process applied to soap opera children.
You know how it goes. A child is born, and several scenes feature the crying newborn. Then, for a time, the baby is referenced but not seen, and after about a year or two, he returns to the story line — having miraculously shot up to the age of 5.
He makes sweet and precocious observations, asks innocent questions about tawdry occurrences and occasionally sees mommy kissing another man or daddy holding hands with the neighbor.
Then they go off to boarding school or to live with some distant cousin. When they return a year or so later, they're 12 or 13 and experiencing middle school puppy love. Sometimes they get kidnapped.
You get the idea. In a matter of five to six years, they spring from toddler to full-grown teen. The actual term for this phenomenon is Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome, or SORAS, and like I said, it always proved to be a laughable piece of fiction.
You see, my 18-year-old son graduates from Armwood High on Monday, and I'm certain he came into our lives only seven years ago. Okay, maybe eight. But there is absolutely no way he was born in 1992.
Surely, he too went through SORAS and skipped large blocks of his youth. Or maybe it all slipped by at a pace too fast for my aging recall — time's cruel trick.
As we prepare for the big day, mixed emotions accentuate my thoughts about Matthew.
I am melancholy about his childhood days that now exist only in my memories.
I am heartened by the adult he has become — taller and stronger than his old man.
I am proud of the fact he will attend Florida State in the fall.
And, frankly, I am ready for him to go.
His mother and I have raised him to be friendly and outgoing, confident and passionate, strong-minded and independent.
Funny how those positive attributes create clashes when mom and dad try to rein in their young bronco in the final few months before he bounds off for college. Between moments of real maturity — he got a summer job — and genuine growth, come exasperating episodes of self-centered acts.
In his mind, friendship ranks higher than family, curfew is an option and rising gas prices have become a personal problem — for his parents.
I don't remember senioritis creating this kind of bewilderment for my parents, but my wife — who has heard stories from my old friends — says, "You were the same way when you were his age."
As always, I argue that parenting, by design, is hypocritical.
Example? Just because I consumed large quantities of Schlitz Malt Liquor Bull at age 18 (the legal drinking age back then), that doesn't mean I want him to be that stupid.
Now I can see the folly of those actions, but back then I was too wild and carefree to recognize the silliness. I guessed good things would happen for me and bad things just couldn't.
It is this intoxicating innocence of youth that can lead to both joy and sorrow. The sense of invincibility is false and fleeting, but eloquent words can't substitute for real-life experiences.
Only time and consequence can help them understand the simple science of life: For every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.
Sometimes he seems to heed such admonitions. Sometimes I feel like I'm speaking Greek to a Martian.
My officemates listen to me lament about such episodes and insist I'm wrong when I say I'm ready for him to go off to college. Surely, they say, you will miss him terribly next fall.
Maybe I will.
Understand, however, his departure is not necessitated by my frustration. I love him dearly, but he needs to leave because I've imparted all of my wisdom — not that it was ever a lot — and now it's his turn to make big decisions, solve big problems and find his own path to success.
His next classroom will be the world.
His next teacher will be life.
I wonder if he realizes I'm still trying to pass that course.
I wonder if his younger brother knows I will relive all of these emotions when he graduates next year.
That's all I'm saying.