I now stand at a threshold from which I look back on that benighted time with such volatile emotion that at moments I am overcome. Next fall, Baby Alexander's Mommy will send 18-year-old Alec — a young man with wide shoulders, a trim beard, a deep baritone, a love of the piano and a fine knack for mimicry — to college. Thinking of all the mothers whose sons have gone off to war or to sea or to hop a freight, I know how privileged I am to face this gentle parting. Those 18 years have not passed in a flash; I've had more than my share of joy and fun. Yet I feel as if I've arrived at a private reckoning, an unavoidable summing up of all the things I hoped to teach this boy, share with him, imprint on his soul — alongside his father, I remind my grandiose self — and all the things I thought I would but didn't. I linger on those I didn't.
I did not teach him to keep a shipshape room, to write thank-you notes by reflex. I did not foster craft projects at the kitchen table or teach him to grow tomatoes. He did not learn to ice-skate. I had fantasies, when he was barely walking, that I would raise him to dress in a confidently nonconformist way, to converse easily with his elders, to love dancing. One day I would show him Paris, where I'd spent a year after college. Our family would memorize poems together, read aloud to one another from the classics. Alec would know Billie Holiday from Sarah Vaughan; cherish "The Sword in the Stone." He would learn how to cook something other than a frozen pizza. Above all, we would accrue countless idiosyncratic traditions, unique to our tight-knit, ice-skating, bed-making, jazz-loving, Dickens-reading family.