A new year begins when school starts

August 31, 1999|By Susan Reimer

THE FIRST day of school rather than the first day of the new year has always meant a fresh start to me.

Nothing seems as "new" on Jan. 1 as it does on Sept. 1: new shoes; stiff, new jeans; a clean backpack; a fresh haircut; unsharpened pencils, fresh paper. What does New Year's Day have to compare with these things?

My back-to-school days are far behind me, but my children approach the first day of school with a kind of anticipation matched only by Christmas Day, and their excitement vibrates in some long forgotten place inside of me.

Like them, I begin each new school year with fresh resolutions. I promise myself that I will be a kinder, gentler parent, but one who is consistently on top of the school calendar and cheerfully vigilant about homework. One who always has a hot meal ready at dinner time, whatever the hour.

I am talking to myself when I make these school year resolutions. I think I know my shortcomings best. But I may be wrong. Perhaps if I asked my kids how I could do better this year, the promises I make to myself would read somewhat differently.

J.S. Salt has done this for me, and for the rest of us parents, too.

"Always Accept Me For Who I Am: Instructions From Teenagers on Raising the Perfect Parent" is a collection of advice from 147 teens, a sampling from the 1,000 kids, ages 13 to 18, with whom he spoke.

This little pocket book is not only written in their own words, but in their own handwriting. And their distinctive scribbling, and the doodles they sometimes draw to illustrate a point, make those words more piercing, more honest, more tender. The book follows "Always Kiss Me Good Night," the same kind of collection of advice from 6- to 12-year-olds, and Salt is onto something.

These are words our children might not have the courage to say to us, to our stern faces. And as a result, these words take some courage to hear. A sampling:

"Support me even when you know I will fail. You may be surprised with what happens."

"I would love it if whenever I have a personal problem I could hit a switch that turns you into a friend who's always looking out for me and who I can trust with a secret."

"Help me learn from my mistakes instead of throwing them in my face all of the time."

"Support my dreams and ambitions instead of praying that I'll live up to yours."

"Don't try to fix things all the time . . . just be there for me."

"Don't pressure me so much on the future while I'm still trying to figure out the present."

"Always listen to me, no matter how busy you are. Having an open ear tells me you have an open heart."

"Be more open about your feelings so I can be more open about mine."

"Be careful with words. Words can wound and leave scars that last a lifetime."

"Tell me about yourself and your mistakes so I don't feel so tiny in your presence."

"Hey, Mom, you seem to think I should tell you everything that's happening in my life. I won't ever. Get over it. Believe me, if I absolutely need to tell you, you'll be the first to know."

"Try not to make every comment a lecture about life."

"Spend more time with me, even if it's just sitting in a coffee shop sometime and talking about our lives."

"Trust ME! Don't ever judge me by things other people my age do."

"Freedom, yet not too much. Restrictions, yet not too much."

"Never condescend to me and NEVER insult me. I insult myself enough."

"Once, just for 30 minutes, sit down and watch a whole episode of my favorite TV show and only then say whether it is a stupid show or not."

"Try not to hate the things that I like, because sooner or later I'll grow out of it."

"Leave work problems at work and come to the house happy, and happy to be with your family. You only have a family once."

"Sometimes I don't think you want to be around me, but when you sit with me and give me a hug, your love runs right through me."

"Mom, I want to have little parties together and put makeup on each other, paint our nails over a bag of popcorn and talk about guys, not just say, `I'm too old for that stuff, honey.' "

"When I bring friends over, don't try to impress them. Just say hi!, and let us go on our way."

"Come to my games. Watch your creation do something I love."

"Worry less about how to raise me and more about how to love me."

And this final comment from of Salt's teen-agers will break the hardest heart:

"Hold my hand when the big waves come."

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