How a New Book on Childhood Helped Soften the Rough Edges of 17

This is Childhood-bookThis Is 17

It was 2 a.m. on a Tuesday evening and I tried to lay still but my mind spun and heart raced. I was replaying a conversation I had had with my 17-year-old son earlier that evening. It was one of those difficult, reality check, let-me-give-it-to-you straight types of conversations that included messages about the hard edges of life, how there really are no short cuts, that wanting something is usually not enough, that effort is almost always rewarding regardless of the outcome and how when you hit difficulties that seem insurmountable, you have a few choices: you can crumble and quit, or you can do everything in your power to try to help yourself achieve your goals.

Rewind. Play. Rewind. Play. I heard the words leaving my mouth, traveling across my office to reach him where he stood with his arms crossed at the doorway. I saw his eyes pull away from mine and the corners of his mouth turn downward. I knew these words/my words stung him.

Shoot the messenger!

I was overwrought with guilt for feeling like I needed to deliver these messages when I could see how heavily the toll of junior year was weighing on him. And these messages were not new to him. He has not only heard them from his parents but from teachers, coaches, and mentors who have cared about him enough to give him an extra push and some constructive guidance. And, most importantly, he has learned them himself—out there in the real world—succeeding, failing, picking himself up, succeeding, failing, trying again—just like the rest of us. I knew he had been listening and learning…but I told myself that I needed to make sure that he REALLY “got it.” But after the words came out and I felt the regret sink in, I asked myself, “What does REALLY “getting” something mean at 17? What does it even mean at 47?”

I went into the kitchen and poured myself a bowl of cereal. Maybe the Wild Berry Clusters and Flakes would take away the pit in my stomach that accompanied the thoughts of, “You really screwed up. You didn’t need to say those things to him. You are putting even more pressure on him. He is going to crack.”

I knew that my intention was to ready him for the sometimes harsh world that periodically hurls daggers of disappointments at us, whether we are ready for them or not. And even though I had made sure to tell him that I have always and will always love and accept him exactly the way his is, I also told him that the world might not always be so kind; that colleges would only know him by his GPA, ACT score, and a 500-word essay. What I wanted to say, but chose to omit because I knew he would immediately roll his eyes and say very clearly, “STOP, MOM,” was that the seemingly powerful people who will only know him by a piece of paper and will soon determine his fate (or at least where he is admitted to college) won’t know some very crucial things about him. They won’t know that he bear hugs his younger brother every day and helps him with his homework without being asked; that he tells funny stories to his little sister when she has trouble falling asleep; that he drives his siblings to school every day; and that he loves and treats his friends like brothers. But I do know, and so does he.

And this is 17: Mothering him with unwavering love and support, but trying to determine when the unconditional love includes honestly and intentionally delivering messages that will help prepare him for the real world; helping him formulate his future plans while guiding him in the management of his the immensely growing number of current responsibilities and pressures; and slowly and gently turning the reigns of his life over to him as he moves toward exiting his boyhood dependence and responsibly embracing his adulthood independence.

And in the midst of it all, when I least expect it, I find myself staring at him. Wanting to slow down the clock, and maybe even rewind it to revisit a few moments of his childhood where I could hear him say, “Uppy, Mommy” one more time, or see his ear to ear grin when he impressed the whole neighborhood by riding his bike with no training wheels at 20 months, or to feel the warmth of his small, trusting hand clutching mine as I walked him into his first day of preschool. But I can’t because time is flying by at a pace unlike anything I experienced in his early years—before he drove a car, attended school dances, spent the summer in Israel, and began his college search—before he was readying himself to leave his childhood behind.

This is 17.

This Is Childhood

My eyes, damp with tears, veer away from my cereal bowl and fall upon the book that I had just received in the mail. I opened “This is Childhood,” edited by Randi Olin and Marcelle Soviero of Brain, Child Magazine, and was immediately pulled into its wonder and comfort, and into my own memories.

As I read through the 10 essays, each one representing a different age of childhood, 1 through 10, I felt an immediate connection with the writers and their stories, including local writers Nina Badzin (This is Three), Galit Breen (This is Four) and Tracy Morrison (This is Seven). Each essayist gives a unique, realistic and poignantly beautiful portrayal of what that particular age looked and felt like. Within their personal stories lie many universal themes like “three has an almost worrisome obsession with bandages that we parents accept for the speed at which they make tears go away” (Nina Badzin) that unite all mothers and make us nod our heads in unison, “Yep, mine did that too,” or “I felt the exact same way.”

I love this book and my only regret is that I didn’t have it sooner. My baby is 10 and I am already beginning to forget the “time stands still” moments that spill out onto every page of this book. And at the end of each essay, there is a prompt that encourages the reader to take a moment and reflect on what that particular age looked/looks and felt/feels like to them by zeroing in on a specific moment or angle like: “Is your little one more big or more little at age four? Capture the words and the faces, the jokes and the stories that make it so.”

My extremely inconsistent journaling and nearly empty baby books (not even positive that I have one for my 4th child) have left me with only fading memories of these years (wish I had started my blog 19 years ago!). But I think to myself that maybe I will try to resurrect some of these memories and jot them down in my newly treasured book.

But for now, it’s 3 a.m. and the few remaining flakes of my cereal rest soggily at the bottom of my bowl. My tears had dampened many pages of my new book as reading the deeply meaningful essays triggered the release of many sweet memories of my children’s early years; especially, those of my 17-year-old. I am baffled by the passage of time.

In returning to the thoughts about my earlier encounter with my son, I feel more at peace. The book reminded me that I have spent the past 17 years loving and guiding this green-eyed, loving boy who was well on his way to manhood. I knew he was going to be just fine. I knew he trusted me to tell him the truth, even if it stings a little.

But once in a while, it certainly would be nice to be able to revert to the fail-safe, take-the-pain-away-immediately band aide method. Unfortunately, however, this no longer works at 17.

Click here to order your copy of this wonderful book—Enjoy!


  1. This post was timely for me Julie…I’m a year behind you with my 16-year old, and we had a conversation this past weekend similar to what you described with your son. Ours was initiated by my practicing driving with him…he made a bone-headed move by adjusting the radio while he was going through an intersection and I went ballistic. He pulled into the nearest parking lot and after I apologized for freaking out (but also lectured him on NEVER tuning the radio while driving), our conversation led to topics of preparing him not just for driving alone, but for real life decisions and actions. I am terrified to let this boy go, and yet I know how much he wants us to believe he can do this adult stuff…ugh, it’s all so hard. I’ll check out that book now!

    • It is so hard, Emily! I thought it would be easier the second time around but it isn’t. The letting go process is excruciating because I think we always feel like we need a little more time with them to make sure they don’t make “bone-headed” decisions out there. And yet, like you said, we do have to show them that we believe in them and their ability to exercise good judgment…

      I so remember those driving freak-outs…and the apologies…and the lectures…I think it’s in our DNA.


  2. Julie
    Thank you for this wonderful review! I am so glad you liked the book.

    • Marcelle, You are most welcome. And thank you for the gift of this book–I love it and am really going to jot down some memories now that they have been sparked.

  3. Oh, Julie, thank you! I’m so glad that this book resonated with you. My baby is now 9.5 and I hear you … it’s all so long ago, and yes, also, yesterday. xoxo

  4. Julie, you will have to be the guide for all of us in this book when we have teenagers! Thank you for this generous review and for bringing your own experiences to the book–which we hope everyone will do.

    • Childhood does a pretty decent job of preparing you for navigating teenagers but not completely. Talking to other moms is hugely helpful and I will do my best to share what I’ve learned with all of my YOUNGER friends :)!

  5. Oh Julie, thank you for this lovely, thoughtful review. I love seeing it all via your more experienced eyes and so appreciate the kind eyes you use to look at all of us with! {Your kids are so very lucky to have you!}

    • Thank you, Galit. I feel lucky that I have older children and younger ones so I haven’t completely lost the connection to “This Is Childhood.” Reading the book helped me realize how truly amazing those early years are and how we all would be doing ourselves (and our children) a big favor by documenting at least some of our memories of those precious (and sometimes challenging) years.

  6. Stephanie Sprenger says:

    Oh, Julie. This is stunning, and I feel sort of speechless, to be honest. I feel you will be a guiding light for me when my children move out of the “comfier” ages they are currently in and approach tweendom and teendom. Your awareness is really inspiring.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Stephanie. It is definitely a journey and I have certainly appreciated moms with older kids who have helped guide me along the way because parenting tweens and teens can definitely be confusing and trying (not that it is any kind of a cakewalk to raise younger ones but the stakes are a bit higher as they get older). I am always happy to share what I have learned in hopes that my words can be helpful to other moms.

  7. It is the words of mothers who have walked before me that always, ALWAYS, resonate the most and help me do what I hope to each day: be present for all of the moments with my children. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and for your thoughtful words about our book!


  1. […] Unscripted Mom:   I love this book and my only regret is that I didn’t have it sooner. My baby i… […]

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