It is a rare occasion that a teenager will ask Mom what she thinks are the most important “life lessons.” Thanks to a high school in-class assignment, though, my seventeen year old daughter did just that last spring. I guess she didn’t have a firm list of “gems” in her mind because she asked me to text her some of the “life lesson junk” I was always telling her. She gave me about ten minutes to compose my list to her so that she could choose the ones most worthy of further study. She really is a great kid, I swear! Drawing on a combination of my mother’s life lesson junk and the lessons I hoped she would carry forward, here is what I sent her:
1. When you fall, pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and keep going.
2. Try to put yourself in others’ shoes
3. Use your manners
4. When you can’t stand someone, kill them with kindness
5. Sometimes you just have to suck it up.
6. Tomorrow is another day
7. Life is short – do what makes you happy.
8. Be yourself.
9. Be able to support yourself.
10. Be open-minded
11. The world has enough assholes. Don’t become one.
12. Believe that the universe wants you to succeed.
13. Make up your own mind.
14. You win some, you lose some.
15. You have everything you need within you.
16. Have a sense of humor.
17. Give yourself a break – don’t beat yourself up or berate yourself, and don’t put up with anyone else who does.
18. Leave the light on.
19. Learn the lessons life wants to teach you.
20. Remember that I love you unconditionally.
21. Your body, your rules.
This was about three months ago. Before she graduated. Before she went off to college. Before I realized there was never going to be enough time for me to spend with her. Looking back at the list, I wonder if I gave her the right advice. Looking back at my life as a mom, I wonder if I should have asked her to send one to me.
Being a parent is a not a guessing game – it’s a second guessing game. Am I making the right decision? Should the time out be two minutes or three? Does time out even work? How do I get my kids to stop yelling at each other without yelling at them? And why is it that they (even at 17) still don’t know where their shoes are in the morning?
The cliché is that children grow up so fast, but I know that’s not really true. Children grow older fast, but growing up takes much longer. At 41 years old, I am still growing up. As a mom, there were many times I had to pretend to be grown up so that my kids wouldn’t feel the insecurity and anxiety of having a mother who was just winging it most of the time. Now I know that most of us are, and I have a profound appreciation for my own parents, who winged it through the raising of six of us and somehow ended up with productive and caring adult children. Hard work? Tons. Luck? Some. Hardships? Many. Love? Always.
Whatever life lessons I sent that day, I hope that there was nothing surprising to her. I hope that she knew them already. I hope that she kept the list for reference and even added some of her own gems to it. But most of all, I hope that she remembers #20 the most. Life can be a rough ride, and it helps to know that someone loves us, no matter what.