Deborah Copaken and Randy Polumbo: The ABCs Of Adulthood

Deborah Copaken, writer and photographer, worked with artist Randy Polumbo to create a guidebook for her off-to-college kids. It’s the book Copaken wished had been available when she was a college freshman.

When my kids left for college I had the crushing feeling that there had not been enough time. There was a long list of things I still wanted to see and do with them but the biggest miss, the one that left a lump in my throat, was what I still wanted to say to them.

The ABCs of Adulthood by Deborah Copaken and Randy Polumbo

It was the words, the conversations, the advice, the love that I still wanted to impart to boys who were not quite men. I knew there was still so much to say, but now it would be offered up in texts and quick phone calls, in school breaks and hasty visits. I wanted them to take my words to college with them and keep them close.

[More on why you should write a special letter to your off-to-college kid here.]

It seems I am far from the only one with this feeling.

And while I left so many words unsaid, Deborah Copaken, New York Times best-selling author, wartime photojournalist, Emmy award winner and mom, along with her collaborator, artist Randy Polumbo,  created a stunning volume that will give voice to so much of what parents want to say. Copaken recently sat down with us and spoke about her book, The ABCs of Adulthood: An Alphabet of Life Lessons

This is the book I wish I could have read when I went to college. Kids are in charge of their lives but have no instruction manual. When my son was a senior, there was no way I could download all the information to him before he left for college.

Instead, she began to write a gorgeous and honest how-to, filled with everything she wanted to share with her eldest son, actor and student Jacob Kogan, before he left home. Though Copaken had not finished recording her parental wisdom in time for his departure, she collected the thoughts she wanted to share with him, organized alphabetically.

Yet, as her son prepared for and then left for college, Deborah Copaken found she had only reached the letter K as life, including an imminent divorce, a new job, a lost job, a cancer diagnosis and an insurmountable rent hike, intervened. Her daughter Sasha is two years younger and as she prepared to follow her brother to college Copaken picked up her manuscript, fittingly, at “L is for Love.”

This is your purpose here: to love and be loved.  Full stop. Life is meaningless without it. It doesn’t have to be romantic love, although romantic love, as you might already be aware, can be the most wonderful love of all. It can also be the most painful. 

The ABCs of Adulthood by Deborah Copaken and Randy Polumbo

The ABCs of Adulthood stands out in the pantheon of volumes of parental wisdom in its beauty, insight and the fact that it is written for both sons and daughters. The title throws us back to the days when we taught our kids their letters, colors and numbers. As you hand this book to a daughter or son it is so easy to remember a time when we had forever to tell them what they needed to hear.

[More of our favorite essays on the sad/happy feeling when kids leave home for college here.]

Copaken and Polumbo gathered over 225 photos and drawings of letters, some fortuitously discovered, others they sought out, before they winnowed it down a trove of their favorite 26 (though a three-book publishing deal suggests that this wide-ranging letter hunt will not be wasted.) Each page beholds a surprise, a photo or drawing that will capture the reader, as he or she drinks in the beautiful words.

As a little guide-book for life, The ABCs of Adulthood offer wisdom, thought-provoking insights and, most of all, encouragement. It is a book that can be consumed in a single sitting and revisited over and over again, as needed. But the biggest gift that this book offers is the chance for parents, with words unsaid, to scribble some of our own thoughts on the bottom of a page or on the inside cover and make this gift very much our own.

One more of our favorites from The ABCs of Adulthood: An Alphabet of Life Lessons:”M is for Mortgage.”

The ABCs of Adulthood by Deborah Copaken and Randy Polumbo

You are not your stuff, you are not your money, you are not your job, you are not your home, and you are most certainly not your mortgage. Ownership is a collective illusion, a social agreement, and the people with the most stuff at the end of life do not win. They just disappear. Like all of us.

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