Some 18-year-olds get cars

There are a lot of things a kid can miss out when they’ve only got one parent, but what my kids have missed the most wasn’t someone to play baseball with or someone to teach them how to shave or draw or make music. What my kids really missed out on was that second income.

Instead of being able to buy a car or even a bicycle for my son’s 18th birthday, I finished the quilt I’d started for him back in his younger years.

Stuart taught his sister how to swim.

It started the summer I had pneumonia; the summer I spent poolside, watching the kids play while I laid there wishing I had health insurance. It was a pretty miserable summer, with being so sick and the ensuing lack of income. They turned off our electricity for two weeks while I struggled to sell enough books and clothes to pay the bill. But I had a fabric stash and with his help, my son Stuart and I chose fabric to make him a quilt.


Over that summer I sewed a log-cabin quilt top, but I’d underestimated how much fabric I would actually need and ran short. There was no money to go buy another couple yards of blue fabric and he needed something bigger than the crib-size quilt-top. And so, the raw edges were folded together and the shades of blue and green were tucked into a bag with the left-overs of the other fabrics, forgotten.

Every few years, I would see that bag and chastise myself for not finishing it, disappointed in another failed attempt. Then four years ago, I decided it didn’t matter if the fabrics didn’t match exactly. So I bought two yards of another blue, not quite the same but close enough.

I cut strips and sewed more log cabin quilt squares, then sewed those together and within a few days had an entire twin-size quilt top. I pressed it, ogled it, showed it off to the kids. I’d made a big quilt-top! They both have baby quilts I’d made them, but this was enormous in comparison and I was proud. I folded up the raw edges, stuffed it back into the bag to await the batting and backing and quilting at another time.

He was happy in Vietnam, I promise.

The bag was stored away for two years, put in my parents’ barn when we shipped ourselves off to Vietnam in 2006. There it stayed through the next two years and the next trip to Vietnam. Then I found it, one of the few things the mice hadn’t destroyed during our boxes’ stay in the barn. I brought it home and tucked it back into the fabric stash, sure that I’d finish it soon.

Soon didn’t happen, but when I came across it in October, a month before his 18th birthday, I knew I had to finish it. There’s something about the age of 18 that makes the distinction between child and adult very clear to me. He’ll be my son, but not my child. I had to finish it.

While he was away at Outdoor School, I bought a military-style wool blanket and some dark green fabric for backing and began the arduous task of quilting it together. But keeping it hidden once he was home was nearly impossible. Our house is small and he’s seen the top before; he’d know what it was.

I begged a friend to let me use his house as my secret sewing studio and when he agreed, I lied to my son that I had writerly meetings and research to do. He didn’t suspect that I was actually spending the evenings sewing his gift.

The night before his birthday, I brought it home–quilted, bound and ready to enjoy. And when I presented it to him at his celebratory dinner, he was shocked. “My quilt?!” Yep, honey. I finally finished it.

Just in time, my child, for you to be an adult.

The Birthday Boy and His Quilt

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  1. 2
    unc d

    YOU ARE FORTUNATE TO HAVE 2 KIDS THAT ARE VERY RESILIANT AND VERY UNDERSTANDING. THEY ARE GROWING UP TO RESPECT LIFE AND YOUR LOVE AND DEVOTION TO THEM. KEEP YOUR FOCUS ON TODAY AND YOUR EYE ON YOUR FUTURE. YOU HAVE DONE A FANTASTIC JOB AND YOU SHOULD BE PROUD.

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY AND A HUG TO ALL

    UNC D

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