For over a year now I’ve been thinking that it’s the last time. The last first day of high school, the last year with all three kids in school uniforms, the last uncomplicated summer with everyone here at home. The last few months of everyone wholly in the nest, with everyone’s roles the way they’ve always been, with me clucking and reminding and chasing after, and them chirping and ignoring and going about their familiar school and sports and friend routines.
All year long I’ve been keeping time in my head, watching the calendar and the seasons change. I’ve been sensing the changes coming, the winds about to shift in a way that will alter our family course and routine forever and transition us into a new phase.
For all of her 17 years I’ve been the full-time career mom, the traveling mom, the ‘crockpot or scramble and throw something on the table and hope for the best’ mom, the drive-by, distracted and guilt ridden mom who’s tired with a short fuse at night, who ‘tries to be engaged in the day to day but isn’t always successful at it’ mom.
The free range, long lead kind of mom who believes in building independence and in having your own life while your kids have theirs. But time is closing in, and now I’m the anxious and slightly panicked mom who’s thinking maybe I’ve had it wrong, and I want a do over, and maybe those helicopter or tiger moms were on to something.
What I Want My Oldest to Know Before She Leaves Home
I keep thinking of every important life lesson or bit of wisdom I need to pass along to her. Whenever these lessons comes to mind, I can’t help but slip them in; during random moments in the car, by text, or as an afterthought tacked on to other reminders about picking clothes up off of her bedroom floor, or trying to be nicer to her younger sister.
It’s the usual litany of forebodings and precautions, things like never taking a drink from a random person no matter how much the thought of a free drink seems like a good idea, not getting into an Uber or Lyft by yourself, keeping your wits about you wherever you are.
And other things like what it means to be there for someone, to be a good friend or partner, to recognize and acknowledge the person behind the persona, to show up and be a physical and emotional support, and to expect that for yourself, too.
I need her to remember to be her own best advocate and not to be afraid to question things, in a respectful way. I want her to listen to that quiet little voice inside that only she can hear, that sometimes gets overshadowed but never steers you wrong.
She needs to know that life isn’t fair, and hands us lots of unexpected challenges along the way, and that adapting, changing and growing are all part of the journey. She should not be afraid to raise her hand and wave the white flag when she needs to, because God knows we all get overwhelmed and it’s okay to fail at things.
No one gives you anything for free so keep your nose down and work hard, but make sure you have a life outside of work. I want her to be able to laugh at herself, to remember where she came from and that she’s no better than anyone else. We’re all in this big adventure together.
As the oldest, she’s our first child-rearing experiment, our longest simmering recipe, one that’s evolved 100 percent organically from instinctively, randomly, and haphazardly adding cups of love and structure and discipline, sprinkles of life lessons and some dashes of exposure to reality to build street smarts, for when she’s set free and on her own.
She’s just now coming to a full boil, a recipe that’s matured and deepened over time, and our foundational work is nearly over. We hope that she’s a good blend, flavored with kindness, courage, common sense, a generous dose of resilience and a sense of humor to roll with whatever college and life throw her way in the years to come.
But now it’s time to put down the spoon, the spice, the regret, the guilt and the worry. To pull myself together, take a deep breath, and pin on a smile.
Time to let go.
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