Tuesday, November 18, 2014

seven years of college down the drain

Okay, so, a while back, Jen of People I Want to Punch in the Throat had an open submission for her next anthology, letters of advice to your children as they leave the nest. One of my cousins, who has always been a big cheerleader of mine, insisted that I enter. And I did. But my submissions were not chosen. I can't really blame Ms. PIWTPITT. They weren't my best work. It's much harder for me to respond to an external prompt, to write because I feel like I "should," as opposed to writing because I have a bee in my bonnet about one thing or another. This particular prompt was a challenge as my kids are 2 and 4 and I'm thinking more about how to get them to eat anything other than reconstituted chicken butts and how to make my bathroom not smell eternally of urine. I didn't get my hopes up too much, especially after DM proofread them and said "I like them. You're probably not going to win or anything, but they're pretty good." But, anyway, I got two free blog posts out of the deal. Here's the first one, to my best boy. It's long, I'm sure you'll be shocked to hear ;)

J$ - My sonny honey…

I just got you to sleep, finally, in the top bunk, with your super hero blankie and your lovey du jour. We read about astronauts and “Ironing man” and princesses (your sister’s choice, but you never protest too heartily.) You have taken your last sip from your Darth Vader water bottle, and you’ve gone pee twice (impressively depositing at least 74% of the urine into the toilet). I have vanquished all gnats, moths, and other terrifying winged monsters of the night. I sang 'Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder' to you over the monitor. You love the part about the doormats, bed slats and democrats. My dog and pony show is done, for today.

This letter is meant to impart some meaningful advice as you leave the nest and head off on whatever adventure life has in store (read: college). You’re four, so you might wonder why I’m writing this now, and not fourteen years from now. Well, first of all, you know me. I must have been a girl scout in a past life because I am nothing if not prepared. But really it goes a little deeper than that. As you know, I lost my mom and stepdad (your grandma and grandpa) less than three weeks after I left home. I had already learned so much from them, but in the whirlwind of “getting ready for college by ransacking Target,” I never had a chance to sit down with them and talk, face-to-face, as an (almost) adult. To hear the stories they had never told and the lessons they had yet to share. I figured I’d have a lifetime for that. Turns out I didn’t.

More than anything else, that experience… well, it made me a stage IV worry wart. So you can blame them for that! But it also made me appreciate how fleeting and impermanent life is. It’s like trying to catch a ray of sunshine in your hand. It’s there, but if you try to grab hold of it, it’s gone. I know better than most that you can’t take tomorrow for granted. So take that trip. Tell so-and-so what you’ve been meaning to say. Send grandma that card. If you have kids, WRITE A DAMN WILL. Wear your fancy pants. Crack open a bottle of the good stuff. What are you waiting for???

And this is why I’m writing a “leaving the nest” letter while you’re in preschool. I hope and pray that when the time comes I will be there to tell you this in person, and revise my advice for certain advances in technology and musical tastes. But just in case I’m not, I want my words written down for the record.

So, here goes. First of all, I apologize in advance, but when you actually do leave for college, there is a 97% chance I am going to be one hot mess of a mom. Milestones make me a bit sappy, from your first word to your big boy underpants, and I still sort of want to cry when I see your tiny little butt clad in teenage mutant ninja turtle boxer briefs. I cannot even fathom how my mother dropped me off at college without shedding a tear. My only hope is to go Rainman on your dorm room and allow the calming waves of OCD transport me to my happy place as I alphabetize your toiletries and arrange your socks by color.

Right now, you can’t wait to grow up and do grown up things. And sometimes, being done with the supper skirmishes and the bedtime battles and the wake-up warfare sounds quite nice. But I know that when the time comes, I will not be ready. How can anyone ever be ready, really? I know that at the moment you're walking out the door, I would give anything for one more epic toddler tantrum, if only because we would make up afterwards and you would curl your sweaty little boy body into my lap, say "I have super-much loves for you, Mama," and absentmindedly pet my head.
Did you know I’ve actually been keeping an advice journal since you were six months old? I saw some punk kids picking on a boy outside a middle school, and I swore then and there to do everything in my power to not raise A-holes. So that’s step one: Don’t be an A-hole.
To that end, when it comes to romantic relationships – be kind. You are a sweet soul and I’m not too worried, but it has to be said. Run your actions through the following filter: What would I do if someone did this to my little sister? If you still feel okay about it then, by all means, carry on.
I was going to say you should probably work on that morbid fear of winged insects and utter inability to pee in the toilet bowl, but judging from your father’s lack of prowess in these areas, I guess they are not prerequisites to earning your "man card."
Change your sheets. I recently read some study that said that the average single male changes his sheets 4 times a year. That is fucking disgusting. (I can say "fuck" now, right? You're a big boy.) I decided I do not want to know how often your father changed his sheets when we first met. I want to scour my brain with a Brill-o pad just thinking about it. This is definitely one of those “ignorance is bliss” situations. Seriously though, I can't have you dying of MRSA the minute you're off my watch. There will be a bed check when I come visit and if it is not up to snuff, I will be making bi-weekly  house calls for very public and embarrassing linen changes. This is not an idle threat. We survived lice in elementary school, and so help me God, we will not be doing bedbugs.

Oh, second piece of advice, directly related to the first: Hoard quarters. Then again, by the time you’re in college, you’ll probably just have a bank account bar code inserted under your fingernail, or the Laundromat will just do a retinal scan and deduct the total from your soul.

Take care of yourself. Eat vegetables, even if they’re buried at the bottom of a California burrito. Hydrate (especially when you’re drinking alcohol, you know, when you’re 21, *wink wink*). Exercise. Brush your teeth. And I've never known this to be a problem for college kids, but, get plenty of sleep. Your body is a temple, and it is at the height of its glory. In the not-too-distant future, the façade begins to crumble, the support beams begin to sag, and it takes more and more work to keep the temple in good working order. Take advantage of that strength and energy and metabolism while you have it!

Don't get a tattoo where a judge can see it. And if you do get a tattoo, think long and hard about what it is you want to get, and why, because take it from me, you will spend the rest of your life explaining it to people. Your uncle is still mad at me for discouraging him from getting a Snoopy tattoo when we was 17, and hey, I guess if he still wants it, more power to him. But personally, I wouldn't want to be a brand ambassador for Peanuts for the rest of my life. Get something original. Get something that has lasting meaning for you. Also, make it cool.

Attend class from time to time. Especially the first day when they hand out the syllabus, and any other days that look important. Make sure you know when the exams are, and show up! Professors are less than sympathetic to the hangover excuse. Surprisingly, however, I did successfully use the “dog ate my homework” line and it totally worked. (Probably because the dog literally ate my homework. I brought in the few shreds that remained as proof and offered to bring in the rest once they “resurfaced.” The prof graciously demurred.)

Those first days and weeks, choose your friends wisely, but beware, what you see is not what you get. Everyone has escaped the social confines of high school. They are no longer stuck in those cloying boxes: jock, nerd, drama queen (or whatever it is nowadays - hipster? emo? hello kitty?) Everybody is trying on different personalities to see what fits. Take it all with a grain of salt, and trust your gut. I can’t speak for most, but the friends I made my first semester in college are my best friends 15 years later, and my social trajectory would have been much different if I hadn’t found them, or rather, if they hadn’t found me. Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. Everybody’s doing it.

A corollary: Nobody knows anything. (I’m sorry to report, this includes you.) Don’t trust anyone who pretends they do. Right now, in preschool, you have a little friend named Connor who likes to tell some whoppers. It’s pretty hilarious. It’s gotten to be such a thing that whenever you say something outlandish, your little sister asks skeptically, “Did Connow tell you dat?” Well. Those guys still exist in college, and in life in general, and it is best to steer clear of them, or at least, take their advice at a severely discounted rate.
There’s a reason for all those clichés: older and wiser; if I’d only known then what I know now; the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know, etc. I learn more about the world every single day, and I still don’t have this shit figured out. When I was younger, I thought at some point I would officially be a “grown up.” Like, one day I would just know all of the things and have all of the tools and that would be it. Here’s the secret though: the older I get, the more I realize that everybody is making it up as they go along.

I’m still waiting to feel like a grown up. I actually think, for me, the peak of my know-it-all-ness was sixteen. It’s been a downhill slide ever since. I'll have to show you this letter I wrote to one of my teachers in high school. The assignment was to write a letter about where we thought we would be in 5 years, and then he’d mail it back to us at that time. When I received my letter, I nearly died of mortification. Sweet Jesus, I was such an unbelievable ass. It is almost unbearable to read. Let’s hope, for my sake, there is a bell curve of dickery and it peaks at 16.

Of course I can’t recount the entire excruciating episode here, but a few gems: I started the letter with Al principio, just to set the tone. I go on to say that I was basically God’s gift to drama class, high school, and the universe, and as such, it was hard to find any “intellectual equals.” I told the teacher it was okay he had to take a leave of absence because – “no offense" – I could have done it without him. Oh and these: “I'll probably be paying off debts for a long time before I ever get rich and world renowned, but hey, I want to have to work to get to the top." [Stilllllll workin']. And of course "Losers quit when they're tired, winners quit when they've won." Pfffftttt. Man. I really missed my calling as motivational speaker and leader of the douche bonnet guild!
So anyway. The lesson here is, don’t do that.
Learn what makes you happy. Over the course of your childhood thus far, you have often fallen into the role of the wingman. You play the part flawlessly, and look, it’s not like there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, one might argue your dad has built an entire life and career being the best Number Two around. But make sure your desires aren’t subsumed by Numero Uno’s. You can’t live in the shadows forever. You are an original, and the world deserves to see the one true you. If nothing else, this is the time to find out what you want and who you are. This is an integral first stop on the endless journey into adulthood.
Be real. That might sound like some flimsy platitude, but I’ll give you a little anecdote. When I was in college, “some friends” decided to do mushrooms. However, the trusty dealer apparently sold them Portobello instead of Psilocybin. Most everyone accepted their sober fate with stoic resignation. Just think of it as an overpriced, (literally) shitty-tasting appetizer. But one guy – my boyfriend, actually, at the time – spent the next few hours acting like he’d either taken LSD, or was having a hallucinogenic reaction to Italian mushrooms. Don’t be that guy.
So, go. Do. Be you out in the big bold world. Take advantage of opportunities that are presented to you. You’re like your mama. You like your habits and your routines and your favorite pillow that is fluffed just so. But you are a brave, strong boy and I’m so glad you’ve ventured from the nest. The best way to learn your place on this wild and crazy planet is to see more of it. Life is going to kick your ass and blow your mind. It is a roller coaster ride with ups and downs… but the most important thing is to enjoy the ride (while trying not to puke or pee your pants). I hope this is the first of a lifetime of adventures for you.
Last but not least, come home. Not to get all Debbie Downer on you, but, my parents died within weeks of me leaving for college and after that I never really had a “home” to be homesick for. To this day, I long for a place to return to that feels like “home.” And maybe we all do. Maybe the notion of home is transformed by the act of leaving. What’s that Maya Angelou quote? “You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it’s alright.” We may turn your bedroom into that man cave I’ve been promising your father for 20 years. Hell, we might even move to Fiji. But as long as your pops and I are on this earth, we are your home, and we will always be waiting for you.
Love you indigo blue,
Your dear old mama
“There’s a time and a place for everything, and that’s college.” – Southpark

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