I always thought I would be overjoyed when my oldest decided which college to attend and we started making preparations for him to leave.
I forgot that I had a million things to tell him before then.
There are things I need to tell my son before he goes off to school. Important things, like not to leave chewed gum wadded up in Kleenex in your pocket before you do your laundry. That you should probably never eat sushi that comes from a cold case in a gas station. That you have to unplug all your electronic devices before leaving your dorm room. That you have to always make sure the physical activity you engage in with others is consensual and safe. That you have to remember to get enough sleep and wash your hands and eat vegetables on occasion and for the millionth time, never, ever, ever get in a car with someone who has been drinking. Those things, and a million other things, these things that I keep thinking of, because now that he has decided and we are starting to consider the practical aspects of him actually leaving, all I can think about are these things and a million, trillion, gazillion other things he needs to know before he goes.
Like don’t go.
I know I can’t really tell him that, so I will tell him other things:
I know you have to go, and I want you to go and explore this big, beautiful world and learn everything you can and become whatever amazing, wonderful, brilliant part of this great big world you were born to be. But I am your mother, your quickly aging, sentimental mother, and I still hold your hand at age 3 when you sobbed in my arms after getting your yearly shots and you told me with a voice choked with pain, “I am trying to remember how to be brave.”
Me too, kid. I am trying to remember how to be brave. And to let you go.
But remember what we taught you, me and your dad — who you weren’t born to but who was your dad pretty much from the moment he met you — we raised you to be a certain way. To be fierce and a warrior to your friends and family and those in need. To speak clearly and strong and believe in yourself, and everything we tried to teach you about being a citizen of this Earth. To be kind to old people and animals and small children. To open doors for everyone and to help whenever you can. To remember the Golden Rule and all the other rules we drilled into your head from the time you could walk until now.
Remember to do your best, and to do more. Remember that life isn’t a dress rehearsal, and so many times there are no do-overs, and you only have one chance to make a first impression. Remember whenever possible to not hurt others, and whatever is worth doing is worth doing right. And also, don’t forget, remember that letters — actual handwritten letters — and thank-you notes and things you actually have to physically mail mean a lot to people, especially when thanking someone and keeping in touch with your grandmothers, and God, yes, please write your grandmothers.
Remember that girls have feelings too and to never objectify them or make them feel less than or take advantage of them or disrespect them, but you should always remember this because this is how you were raised. Just never, ever let that third beer let you forget, and yes, we know that will happen, but please remember that we taught you to drink responsibly. And the you from 11 p.m. the night before can easily hate the you having to take a 7 a.m. class the next morning.
Remember to fail, to fail miserably, to take chances and make mistakes and “F” up royally as long as you aren’t causing harm to others, because this is how you will learn. And remember to learn from these mistakes and do better, and always remember to do better.
Remember that we are here. And we are letting you go, but I don’t want you to go. I want to go back and have you running through sprinklers and coloring on my walls and eating ice cream for the very first time and the way your head smelled when it was the middle of the night and you woke up hungry and the only thing on Earth was me and you and the stars. I don’t want beds-in-a-bag and making sure your cell plan has unlimited data and packing you cold pills and throat lozenges and buying you a pod coffeemaker. I don’t want to go to Bed, Bath and Beyond. I want more spur-of-the-moment trips to Toys ‘R Us and Batman figures on the edge of my tub and every problem solved with a cookie and my lap and reading the same book for the hundredth time.
But remember everything. Everything we taught you and that I am here. And that I will always be here. We will always be here.
And I want you to go. To go and be who you were meant to be. I will be happy when you go. I will celebrate and appreciate that “I did a good job” and “we did a good job” and this is how it is supposed to be and the alternative of you living in my basement forever and playing music loud and eating all my good snacks is not an actual alternative. And I want you to go, and to live and learn and love and do better than I have, do better than we have, to make your mark and scrawl your name in big, beautiful, meaningful letters all over this great big world. But remember me. Remember me and your father and your siblings and your people. Remember who you are and where you came from, and remember everything we taught you.
And remember I will always be your mother. And remember I am always here.