Feverishly finishing up role as parent

May 07, 2002|By Susan Reimer

I AM IN THE final days of what I consider to be the official rearing of my oldest child.

He is a senior in high school, and, because he has received an appointment to a service academy, he will be "leaving for college" at the end of June, weeks ahead of his fellow graduates.

I am therefore engaging in what I call "speed parenting," my attempt to tie up 18 years of instructional loose ends in a little more than a few weeks.

I feel like the teacher who suddenly realizes that finals are just days away, and two weeks' worth of lesson plans are untaught. Where did the time go?

Pity poor Joe. The child is trying to drain the last drops of adolescent fun from his life while his mother is trying to get his attention for a review of parenthood's major talking points.

The result is a kind of pursuit-and-escape dynamic that is not at all what I had in mind for the final days of his life at home.

So, I am having these conversations - well, not exactly conversations - that sound more like the kinds of graduation speeches celebrities give and then turn into best sellers, such as Wear Sunscreen, by Mary Schmich, or Ten Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Went Out Into the Real World, by Maria Shriver: advice in the form of a list.

Therefore, any talks I give have a kind of sound-bite quality. Sort of like a coach's instructions during a 30-second timeout.

And they go something like this:

"Have a game plan for your life. You might have to toss it aside after the first series of downs, but make a plan anyway. It is good practice for that time when you will really need to make one.

"Smile, and smile often. After a while, you will hardly notice when you are smiling, but it will be the nicest thing that happens to someone else that day.

"Always look people in the eye. It will be harder for them to lie to you. It will also be harder for you to lie to them, and things will go much better between you.

"Be a friend to someone smaller, weaker or younger. It is a responsibility that comes with being bigger and stronger.

"But also be a friend to someone much older. You can make them feel like they still matter.

"Do not smoke. It will kill you. Not now. Not soon. But someday, when you have children you love, smoking will kill you, and they will never recover.

"Choose to be happy. It is a choice you can make every day of your life. Happiness is not just something that happens to you if you are lucky.

"Hold yourself open to the possibility of God. Things are going great right now. Life couldn't be better. But someday something or someone will break your heart, and you will feel like there is no place to turn for comfort. Keep God's phone number in your wallet just in case.

"When it is time to find work, do something you love. Or learn to love what you must do, because you will work for 40 years and that is a long, long time to be unhappy.

"The best thing you will ever do for your children is to love their mother.

"Always show up. Always do what is expected of you.

"Don't drink and drive. And don't ride with anyone who does. Be careful behind the wheel of a car every day of your life.

"Never stop reading and learning. It is fun when you don't get a grade for it.

"Women will always be charmed by a man who opens the door for them.

"See a dentist twice a year and a doctor once a year. You'd do as much for your car.

"Be mindful of flowers. They are beautiful but fragile, yet they can renew themselves again and again.

"Be kind to your parents. The happiest day of your life will be the day you understand what it feels like to love a child so much.

"Believe in yourself, because so many other people believe in you, and they can't all be wrong.

"One more thing. Life is a journey, not a destination. Make sure your shoes are comfortable shoes, metaphorically speaking.

"Oh, and wear sunscreen."

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