My teenage daughter has just begun her last year of living at home before she goes off to college. I plan on filling this year with all the things that I didn’t have time to do while raising my children alone with no family in the state. This includes teaching her to drive and helping her get her driver’s license, instilling in her my never-ending life lessons, and having a whole lot of fun. None of this will be easy because there’s the emotional undercurrent of fleeting time that’s always on my mind.
Just this morning while going through boxes in the attic, I found the journals I’d written when my children were born, and in them was a list of things I wanted them to remember as they grew up. It contained all manner of little life instructions, such as “take vitamins” and “don’t blindly go when the light is green, but instead make sure the path is clear before proceeding.” I told them not to spend money they don’t have and to always, always follow their heart and absolutely love their job because they will spend much of their lives working. I also told them to always make sure the people they love know it because you never know when you’ll see them for the very last time.
Now that I’ve been a mother for seventeen years, there are a few more words of advice I’ve found important to add:
1. Go on the adventure.
I don’t care how tired you are. When your friends get back from the adventure that you chose not to attend, you will feel left out. To this day I regret not going skiing with my friends in high school, and I’ve still never gone skiing. Experiences matter more than whatever it was I chose to do instead (obviously something that didn’t leave a lasting memory).
2. Get as much education or training as you need in order to do whatever job makes you happy.
If your dream job requires a master’s degree, get it out of the way while you’re young and before you have kids. If you don’t, it will be harder — not impossible, but much, much harder. I know because I had two children in undergrad, and it was pure hell.
3. Don’t eat junk food or diet anything.
Artificial chemicals are unhealthy and can shorten your life — or at the very least make you feel blah. You have one life and one body, and you need to nurture it. The way you physically feel directly impacts the way you mentally feel. Additionally, it’s okay to eat real butter and real sugar, but have it in small amounts.
4. Give sincere compliments.
Be so secure with who you are that pettiness and jealousy don’t have real estate in your mind. You’ll be amazed at how showing kindness to others makes the world you live in happier. There will always be people with skills or attributes that are different than yours, but it does not diminish your own self-worth. Acknowledging the good in others shines light back into your own life even as it’s shining light into theirs.
5. Write down your feelings in a journal.
You’ll someday learn so much from what you wrote a decade ago. You’ll see that you’ve always been interested in poetry or pottery, you’ll giggle at some funny memories, you’ll marvel at how wrong you were about something, and you’ll learn that the things you thought would kill you or that you couldn’t live without weren’t going to kill you or destroy your life. The horrible things passed, and you’re still here. You’ll learn that you’ve always been you, that you always will be, and that you are pretty darn awesome.
I could go on and on, but these are the basic ones that come to mind. I plan on having this printed out for my children when they graduate high school so they can take it with them in their hearts, in their minds, and in their actual hands. Maybe I’ll even frame it for them.
Finding that list in the attic made me want to make a to-do list for the next year with my daughter. I want to take her to the beach and watch her run on the sand like she did when she was a toddler in Los Angeles. I want to have professional portraits made of all of us — both as a family and as individuals. I want to have more family dinners where we pour out our dreams and our souls, more family game nights and movie nights (easier said than done with busy schedules). I want us to write letters to our future selves and bury them in the backyard with photos and dig them out in ten years. I want to make up a scavenger hunt for her and her brothers so that this entire year is filled with magic and merriment. I want to plan out a very special graduation gift and party, something that she can always have with her, even when I’m not around — something that will inspire her but will also make her feel safe.
Most of all, I want this next year to be memorable and happy. It has been said that we love most at the hour of separation. I have that feeling going on but over the span of a year. I hope to make it a good one.