Those of us whose first kid is poised on the edge of the nest, flapping wings and getting ready to fly away, are in a bit of a panic.  I saw another mother-of-a-senior in the YMCA locker room recently.  She stood there in her swimming suit, scuba mask on her head, and asked somewhat frantically “So how are you feeling about Ian leaving home for college?”

I answered honestly:  “There’s still so much we haven’t taught him!  He’s not ready for prime time yet!”

Water drops sprayed as she shook her head vigorously up and down.  “I feel the exact same way!  My kids isn’t fully done yet!”  In that rushed encounter, we couldn’t articulate exactly what we had failed to teach our teens, but I’ve had some time to think about it.  And here are just a few examples.

1.  Clothing management.  Ian admits he’s still not sure how to do laundry.  He’s never ironed anything in his life.  Folding is a great unknown.  As for closet and dresser management, I’m reminded of comedian Steven Wright, who said “I have a seashell collection.  I keep it scattered on the beaches of the world.” 

2.  Thank you notes.  My first-born has almost certainly failed to internalize one of my rules:  always write a thank you note, make it at least three sentences long, and use cursive.  Envelopes and stamps must be involved:  texting, emailing, and Facebooking do not count.   (mind you, my own Christmas thank-yous are still unwritten…but do as I say, not as I do.)

3.  How to wait to launch into a story until the person you’re talking at has finished walking into the house, removed her coat, and put away groceries.

On the upside, he knows how to read a train schedule, drive a car, speak fluent Spanish, cook his own simple meals, get As in physics and chemistry (both Greek to me), and draw, paint, and etch.   He’s done a great job of being a student, which is his main responsibility at this point.  

As our wise friend Donna - also the parent of a senior – points out, it’s impossible to teach our kids every single life skill they need.  Some of them are more teachable than others, for one thing.  For another,  you can’t possibly impart every useful thing they’ll need to know.  

Some stuff they have to learn on their own, by bouncing a check, or by asking a woman if she’s pregnant, or by being put on probation at work for having a lousy attitude.  Bitter experience trumps hypothetical lecture.

That said, there’s still time for some teaching.  My two-part lesson plan will begin with the importance of the separation of lights and darks.  When he’s graduated from Washing 101, we’ll move on to Drying 101:  never put a wool sweater in the dryer.


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