I marvel at the brilliance that is seventeen. Seventeen means you can drive yourself, it means you can drive your siblings and your friends, it means you are old enough to self-regulate to a certain extent. Seventeen is accompanied by a fair amount of adult freedom and responsibility. It is also accompanied by a fair amount of insecurity and uncertainty and the emotional swings that come with adolescence.
Our seventeen year old, our Child One, has all of these things. She has lot of that adult freedom. She’s incredibly responsible and she comes and goes as she pleases. But she is not adult. She can’t vote. She can’t drink (not that she wants to). She is still, legally, a minor. Seventeen, I’m often reminded in spite of her poise and maturity, is still quite young. Take, as case in point, a moment with her earlier this week.
Child One had given a brilliant speech at a fancy Beverly Hills fundraiser a week prior. She was a little nervous. Her voice was maybe pitched a bit higher than normal. She held her head maybe a little more awkwardly than she might otherwise. But only those of us who know her best were aware of any of these flaws. The rest of the room saw her as brilliant and articulate and composed – a performance belying her few years – a performance worthy of a well-educated, secure adult. After her speech, several admirers approached – people who had never met her before – people impressed by her ability to speak with such command at so young an age. One man, a rather wealthy and powerful businessman, asked her where she intended to apply to college. And then he told her she could do anything – he told her she could be the next President of the United States.
This may seems silly – a grand statement from a complete stranger to such a young girl after hearing one speech on a Wednesday night in a ballroom in Beverly Hills. But the man meant it. And why not, really? Why shouldn’t Child One be anything she wants to be, even the President of the United States?
The excitement of her speech behind her, Child One re-engaged in the rigor of her daily life - she continued to obsess about schoolwork and SATs and college apps and internship and her senior project. Bedtime continued to come too late and mornings began too early and as anyone who lives a busy life can tell you, Child One started to break down. It started with a stuffy nose and deteriorated to a low grade coldy/flu bug. Our brilliant, strong, vibrant girl turned into a weak, sleepy, snotty little kitten.
And then last night, after anxious tossing and turning, after hours of organizing and re-organizing and sheep counting and white noise, Child One succumbed to the adolescent side of her seventeen year old self. Child One did, as she had when she was a tiny girl, what every small child does when they can’t self-soothe – when they can’t put themselves to sleep. Child One crept into our room at 3am and crawled into bed next to Sig Other. “I can’t sleep,” I heard her say. “Shhhh,” Sig Other soothed, patting her head, “stay here and I’ll put you to sleep.” Within three minutes, Child One was snoring soundly. So there we were – me, Sig Other, Beta Dog and Child One – all jammed into bed together. I knew that Sig Other wasn’t asleep – I knew he was trapped in an awkward twist, one arm under Child One, one around her back but neither moving so as not to wake the sweet girl. And I certainly wasn’t asleep, kept awake by the drone of the buzzsaw of Child One’s snotty snore. But neither of us would speak, lest we wake the sleeping child. And so I looked across the bed, past sleeping Beta Dog, past wakeful Sig Other and over at the now blissful Child One and I thought to myself, “oh look – there she is – the future President of the United States.”