What do you mean you mailed a college application? Get back down on the floor and play with some Legos. Do you want me to make you a sandwich? Or, you can invite your friends over and we’ll order pizzas. You can stay up all night, if you want. I’ll just go cry in my room, but don’t let that bother you.
Yes, I know I can be obnoxious about mothering you, but don’t leave yet. I’m not done. We need to work on laundry and managing money. And we should have the talk — you know, the discussion about sex, drugs, alcohol, and how the world is full of mean people who could hurt you. Oh, you say you can handle everything? Then tell me, son, how do I handle this anxiety? How do I stop this gut-churning ache when I realize my only son, my last child, is walking out the door and will return as a visitor? Give me some laughs for that fact, will you?
Okay, I’m sorry for that lapse in composure. I’m really happy for you. Really. I want you to march into college and own the place. Let them know you have arrived and you’re ready to pursue enlightenment and knowledge so you can get a great job and support me in my old age. Oops. There I go again. It’s not about me, is it? This is about you. I must focus.
Because I’m a single parent and the two of us have shared this house for several years, I want to give you my best parenting advice before you drive off to the university. So, here goes:
1. Size matters. You already know this. Weighing in at 11 pounds, you were one of the biggest babies every born at the Gooding County Hospital. You were always the tallest, which made it easy to find you in a crowd of other children. You were sad at age 4 when He-Man underwear didn’t come in your size, and the teachers had to order an adult-sized desk for you in 5th grade. You were 6’6″ in high school, and you carried the load for others, as you continue to do today. Sometimes you didn’t like being so big, but many people, including me, see you now as a tall, strong, funny, handsome, and responsible hero. That’s a good thing.
2. Keep your sense of humor. No one can make me laugh like you do. Your personality is beyond gregarious and that’s why others enjoy being around you. I’ve seen you cheer up a dejected classmate, counsel a young child, coach and encourage a YMCA team, and cause your grandmother to grin. (Dementia made her grin all the time, but you brought a special twinkle to her eyes.)
3. Stay compassionate. As a two-year-old, you took care of other children at the child-care center. That special trait continued into your teenage years. Several others took advantage of you, and I know you used your wages to pay for a lot of meals, trips, and activities that other kids couldn’t afford. Keep that empathetic characteristic, but watch out for charlatans who will exploit your generosity. Learn from me.
4. Treat women as wonderful, complicated creatures who can make your life a living hell or a heavenly sanctuary. You will live in a fraternity and there will be raucous parties with coeds. Have fun, but keep your head clear and your pants zipped. Other college men won’t heed that advice, and their new nickname will be “father” or “college drop-out.” The woman you choose to marry will be lucky, indeed. Remember to compliment her, support her dreams, and be delighted in your partnership with her as you build dreams together. Plan great adventures and expect a successful marriage. And, if she ever asks, “How do I look?” always respond, “Wow! You look amazing?” Trust me.
5. Remember your roots. You were born into a family with a strong work ethic, a love of adventure, and an unwavering love for their children. I’m sorry your father and I lost the marriage, but we continued to make your sister and you our top priority. Take this experience to do better than we did.
6. Get ready to fly. The next five years will be the most important years of your life. You will go to college, get a job, perhaps get married, and maybe you’ll have children. Life will never be the same again. Take this time to savor every drop of life you can. Meet new people, visit new destinations, make some mistakes, and recover with gusto. But, please, know that if you move far away I know how to make airplane reservations. I’d like a guest room with teal-colored paint on the walls, a coffee maker, and a wine bar.
I think that’s the essential tidbits for now. You’ve got a job so you know about money. As for laundry, just wear all dark clothes so you don’t need to separate the loads. But, always wash your towels at least weekly. I might need to throw a few wet towels on the floor after you’re gone just for the memories.
Go to college, son, and remember that life can’t be one big party unless someone pays the bills and provides the clean-up committee. Be the one in charge of your own celebration of young adulthood. I’ll miss you every day, but soon I can visit you on campus. I’ll bring your favorite cookies! And a pizza. It will be just like old times.
Most of all, I will miss your laugh, so please record it for me. Remember, your first laugh was with me when you were four months old. It could have been caused by gas bubbles, but oh my, how you could laugh! Please don’t ever stop.
Mama (all alone in a big, quiet, empty house)
(Featured on The Huffington Post Fifty, August 29, 2015)
(I wrote this letter several years ago, and now the college student is a successful man with a family, a career, and a mortgage.)