My younger son, Bergen, blew out 18 candles last week.

Actually, that's a lie. He blew out six candles, but we decided each candle was worth three candles, so same difference. It was a very small cake. What can you do?

When I started writing this column, in January 2006, Bergen was 3. When I wrote about him then, I told you about how he loved to push elevator buttons and build sandbox towers. How he'd stand at the refrigerator door asking for "Juice, peas!"

Now he's taking classes in calculus and creative writing and philosophy. He's shopping for dorm gear. He's telling me to go to bed earlier and reminding me to wash my hands.

In between this all — between grade school and now — I haven't written about Bergen much. He preferred I didn't, and I respected his wishes. But last night I asked if I could write about his birthday. About turning 18 and graduating high school and planning for college amidst a stay-at-home order.

He said yes. So, given free reign, I just want to say this: Oh my gosh, you guys, I like him so much.

I mean, sure, he leaves his shower towels on the floor. And he hardly ever wants to play cards with me. And, boy, can he argue — no, seriously, that kid can debate just about anything into the ground. (I'm not saying he did or didn't get that from me. But he totally got that from me.)

But he's also optimistic and positive and if he met you, he'd see the very best in you. He's curious and forgiving and compassionate and funny. He's an independent thinker and a creative soul. He gives the best hugs.

There have been disappointments this year. As he ushers out his senior year, he's staring down the prospect of missing prom, of foregoing commencement. There'll be no spring band concert. No senior year campout. And what does fall hold? There are so many unknowns.

On the eve of his 18th birthday, I wrote Bergen 18 letters sealed into 18 numbered envelopes. Each one held memories from a different age.

"You ate sand for the first time at the dinosaur park!"

"Your favorite food was spaghetti."

"When you returned home from Camp Olson, we surprised you with Daisy Dog!"

I cried some while writing those letters, mourning the loss of his childhood, of the baby whose favorite spot was my shoulder. The preschooler who let me read books to him for hours. The grade-schooler who'd play Legos for days, building contraptions not found in any instruction book.

But I also cried because I'm so proud to be his mom.

I've joked that now that my kids are 18 and 20, I'm done. My parenting days are over. Wasn't that easy?

It wasn't easy, of course. And it's not done.

But, oh, what a wild ride these first 18 years have been. And now it's time to take a back seat — take my hands off the wheel — and see where the next 18 years takes my boy.