As I stood with my oldest son waiting for the bus to take him to his freshman orientation at half past ridiculous o’clock this morning, I was very much feeling like one of those creepy Old Spice moms. It was his first time taking a bus to school—he went to Catholic elementary, and we lived out of district, so I drove him every day—AND I worked right across the parking lot from where he and his brother were. We chatted a little as we waited for the bus, and he made a point (as he does) of making sure that I see how he towers over me now. I tried to hold it together when I saw the bus coming, but the sound I made startled the poor boy. I said a quick good-bye (kissing him before the bus arrived to make sure I didn’t embarrass him) and then bolted for the house to cry in my coffee like a jerk. He got on the bus like nothing, greeted the driver (politely!) and went about his day.
I was sucked right back to his first day of pre-k. We stood outside the school with the other kids and their parents, but back then, he would let me hold his tiny, pudgy hand—I couldn’t imagine the meat hooks he’d have now. When it was time to go in, that little, independent man said, “I don’t want to go in there.” I said, “You have to.” And, blurting out a little, “Okay!” he cheerfully ran inside—no kiss, no good-bye—just ran off to meet his destiny.
It’s bittersweet watching my boys grow up—I’m proud of who they are and what they are becoming, fearful of any pain or disappointment they may experience, suspicious (yet hopeful) of whatever girls might look at them, wondering if my husband and I gave them what they need to be good, holy people and anticipating how they will live out God’s calling for them.
So, I give them a little advice:
- Know who you are, and be true to it. Don’t let other people decide your tastes, interests, values and goals. True cool comes from being authentic—don’t be a phony. Remember Milli Vanilli, and Jose Canseco. They are old people who failed on an epic scale. Google it. Peer pressure is for chumps—it’s just insecure kids trying to get you to be insecure with them. You’re strong—be strong.
- Don’t gossip. Whether the information is true or not, harming another’s reputation is damaging to them, to the person you are trying to sway the opinion of and yourself. Would you want that news shared about you? Then, don’t share it about others. Would you want someone trying to decide your opinion of another instead of leaving that up to you? Then don’t do it to someone else.
- Tell the truth. Don’t exaggerate, take responsibility for your mistakes and say only what is true. Consider President Nixon…or Miley Cyrus…train wrecks. Don’t be one.
- Don’t say everything that occurs to you. Think about how it will affect others. Will it be hurtful, or build up the other person? If you are going to disagree with someone—is it important, or are you just showing off or being disagreeable for no reason? Did they say that Lord of the Rings is not the best book series ever? Defend it! Did they say that spring is the best season? Who cares! Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.
- Life is not a competition. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, or has, or is wearing. Be content with what you have—I’m not getting you that stuff, anyway.
- The second guy always gets the foul. If someone does or says something to you that you don’t like, respond—don’t react. Not only will you be the one to get in trouble for lashing out, you give up your freedom in that situation. Instead of choosing how you would like to respond and keeping a cool head, you are giving up your will and becoming what you didn’t like to begin with. Like a supervillain.
- Guard your heart. Make one or two good friends—friends who will have your back and who’s back your feel comfortable having. Choose friends who will support you in doing good, will tell you when you’re wrong and who you can have fun with. You don’t always have to agree; it’s better if you don’t! Don’t give your heart—in friendship or in love—to someone who doesn’t respect you for who you are.
- Thank your teachers. Boy, do they put up with a lot. And they show up every day to try and get something useful into your noggin. Be grateful for all the people who are there helping, teaching, cleaning the school, driving the bus—and let them know that you are grateful.
- Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Or I wreck you. Or your dad, grandparents, or aunts, or uncles wreck you. We are in your corner and are always here to support you. And correct you. Because we love you.
- Besides having us in your corner, more importantly, you have God. Don’t forget the help, guidance, unconditional love and perfect, free gift that God is to you. God is there for you. Include God in everything you do and you won’t go wrong.
None of this advice is anything they haven’t heard before—and it’s certainly not a complete list—but it’s stuff I pray they’ll remember when they are away from me. Most of me is really looking forward to the great things that will unfold for them as they continue to grow and strike out on their own. But, a tiny part of me will continue to drink slightly salty coffee many mornings as I remember the cuddly little monsters that they were when they were small.