Turning eighteen

This year my son Pedro and his friends will all be turning eighteen.

In Portugal, of late, there is this tradition that eighteen-year old parties are a big celebration, and both girls and boys dress up for them. In the case of boys, they are expected to dress formally, with a jacket, a tie, a white or light blue shirt and grey or beige trousers, and leather shoes of course.

A few days ago Pedro told me “Mom, next week I’ll have the eighteen- year old party of a friend of mine and she has told us it will be a formal occasion…” – he needn’t have added that, as I already knew. So we agreed to go last Tuesday, after work, to El Corte Inglés, to “dress him up”.

And so we did. He met me at the office and we took the car there. As always, he was in a hurry, saying “Mom, can we get it over with quickly, I still want to go to my training”. I smiled and said “No way, this takes time…you have to be patient!” He looked conformed and followed me to the lifts.

On the second floor (men’s clothes and accessories) we stopped by the shoes. He had absolutely no idea what shoes he should buy. Even in the last years’ Christmas dinners of their rugby club, when they all have to dress formally as well, he used to take his moccasins, his beige Dockers and a jacket that used to belong to Nuno’s younger son. But now it was time to have his own formal outfit…so I looked for the classical men’s shoes and told him to choose those he liked best. He finally chose the simplest of all, in brown. As he tried them on (44, while in tennis shoes he’s a 46!) he found them hard, of course, but then his feet adapted and he felt comfortable. And we proceeded to the clothes department.

After a certain time we found the perfect jacket, a crisp white shirt and very smart grey flannel trousers. They all fit perfectly, as if they had been made especially for him. Then I ran for a tie and brought three for him to choose from (always very trendy, he immediately chose the one I liked best, in blue with white stripes) and I also got him a belt – brown, to go with the shoes.

As I was coming with the belt I had a glimpse of him in the mirror, and I stopped – he looked so grown up, so handsome, so elegant, with the jacket and tie…how is it possible, my God, I thought – my “baby” will be turning eighteen soon, he’s a man…and then I remembered the day, roughly three years ago, when I took my elder son Afonso to El Corte Inglés on the same mission – to dress him up, in this case for his own eighteen year old birthday party. It was exactly the same – first the shoes – also brown and quite classical – then the dark blue jacket, the shirt, the grey trousers…and my looking at my darling boy and thinking “my God, how time has flown” – but then and today, having the same feeling of happiness, of pride, of seeing my boys turn into men and, why not say it – to a mother everything is allowed – so handsome…

One of the things mothers dread most is not to see their children grow up. I remember feeling that. So it is a relief when we see them so tall, so independent, so sure of themselves. Even if we know they still need us so much. And we know we’ll be there for them, today and forever, because, as much as they have grown, deep down in our heart they will still be our little babies.

We came home carrying all the bags and as we arrived Afonso was waiting for us sitting on the couch. He had a grin as he told me:” Mom, I regret having to tell you that most of my formal gear does not fit me anymore…”. Of course this was to be expected, after all in three years and so much rugby his frame is now larger, he is even more athletic, and his jacket, shirt and trousers do not fit him anymore…so I suppose I’ll have to get ready for another “dress up” session at El Corte Inglés sooner or later… fortunately, I thought, the shoes still fit!

Now I’m looking forward to tomorrow evening, when Pedro dresses up and I will register the moment for posterity, as I did three years ago with Afonso. I will take some photos and he will – just like his brother – try to run away and say it’s enough. And I will take some more. And we’ll laugh. And he will smell incredibly well – tons of perfume – and will be impeccably shaved and will give me a light kiss as he leaves.

I will hear the door close behind him and feel silly tears in my eyes, silly tears of happiness because my sons are healthy, full of life and, above all, living their youth in full and enjoying it. Because, however mad I am at them sometimes – the usual stuff – I love them so strongly, so deeply, so unconditionally, that nothing in life can be compared to that feeling.

And as these two “dress up sessions” with both my sons will always remain among my cherished memories, I hope that one day, as they take their own sons to buy their first jacket, shirt, tie and trousers (and shoes!) they will give a thought to the distant day when their mother did the same with them as a sort of ritual of passage into manhood (one of many, of course).

After all, there are some rituals, some traditions that should be kept over the years. One of them, I think, is certainly this one.