The summer days preparing your child to leave for college are measured in checklists: shopping lists, packing lists, registration lists, move-in lists. If you don’t know where to start, you can find them all on the Internet. I studied them with the same urgency that I used to apply when preparing for final exams, paying particular attention to the ones that began with some version of “Essential Life Lessons Your Child Needs to Learn Before Going to College.”
Unfortunately for me, it did not take long to discover that despite the fact that I had 18 years to meet this deadline, I still was left with a long and distinguished list of conversations I neglected to have, lessons I did not teach and life skills I did not get around to passing on to our daughter. Worse yet, the days were fleeting, and there was simply no human way to get through the life lessons checklist with her in time.
Below, a sampling of my apparent shortcomings according to various published articles:
1. Show her how to read a paper map. In my defense, do these still exist in the age of the smartphone?
2. Teach my daughter how to cook a few simple dishes. She hates to cook. She does, however, know how to bake a mean chocolate cookie and whip up both boxed macaroni and cheese and instant oatmeal. Does that count?
3. Train her to plan a week’s worth of home-cooked, economical meals. See above.
4. Talk with her about our expectations about whether or not she can leave her college campus overnight. I mean, really, why is this a thing? Does anyone truly think their child will stay exclusively within campus boundaries for four years just because their parents told them to?
5. Show her how to perform basic car maintenance and repairs, including changing an oil filter. I can’t teach what I don’t know. I can give her a coupon to Jiffy Lube, though.
6. Give her lessons on how to mend a torn seam and sew a button. I will concede this one. I dropped the ball, but I did at least introduce her to the magic of double-sided tape.
7. Teach her how to make a bed with hospital corners. The art of a well-made bed is a true skill, but difficult to master. It is especially hard to teach when your teenager is still lying in their bed avoiding daylight.
When I first realized my many omissions, panic and worry that I had failed as a parent and squandered my time with my daughter ensued. Then this happened:
Three weeks before she was set to leave for college, my daughter and her friends got a flat tire. They could have called a parent or, frankly, AAA, since my daughter is a card-carrying member. Instead, the college-bound freshmen rolled up their sleeves and with an instruction manual, YouTube and their own common sense and strength, changed a tire on their own. It did not matter that we failed to complete item No. 5 on the list (car maintenance). She figured it out without us.
I may not have finished everything on my parenting to-do list, but some calm has been restored. I have at least some measure of inner peace knowing that although I haven’t taught my daughter everything, she is smart and capable and ready and eager to learn the rest on her own. Letting go of this particular list gave us space to move beyond focusing on last-minute lessons and instead to focus on the excitement of our daughter moving forward, independently, toward her future, to learn her own lessons in her own time.
Just like we did once.