As I watch you model your cap and gown, eagerly anticipating graduation, a Summer of freedom and your new life away at college, I’m bursting with pride at the sight of the young man I see before me, even as my heart aches for the little boy that eagerly ran to me with gifts of rocks and hand picked wildflowers.
Then I think about the child that’s proven time and again he’s incapable of even opening a pudding cup without assistance and I’m filled with a sense of dread when I picture you trying to survive on your own.
That would be why, for your graduation, I’m giving you this lovingly written letter instead of money. After all, the money would be gone by fall, but these words of advice will carry you through college and the bachelor years beyond.
Life Wisdom For My Son
Since I know it’s one of your favorite pastimes, let’s start with feeding yourself. We all know the cafeteria food sucks. (Institutional food is institutional food, whether it’s high school or University.) Your first instinct is gonna be to eat at the Steak House every night. Fight that urge!
For one thing, you’re gonna be on a budget now, which means not only will you have to cover your own $20 slab of dead cow and tip, but the extra TP we all know you go through afterwards. (And your roommates will NOT thank you for THAT experience!)
Instead, I’ve got one word for you; Ramen. I can almost feel you rolling your eyes at me, but it really is the perfect food. It cooks in two minutes and if you toss the seasoning packet out the window and get a little creative, you can eat it for every meal. Spaghetti, alfredo, cold pasta salad, cinnamon and sugary dessert noodles; the possibilities are endless. And all for less than 50 cents a pack!
For those times you reach the point that you’re sure you’re gonna explode noodles like wet confetti, think anchovies. No, I don’t recommend adding them to the Ramen. (Although I guess anything’s worth trying at least once.) The thing is, NO ONE like anchovies, but with a little work, you can learn to tolerate them. That means any slice of pizza that’s seen the salty caress of the slimey things, will be safe from unwanted sharing.
Once you’ve learned to suppress your fish-induced gag reflex, you can stretch a large pizza over at least a three day period, maybe more if you alternate with the noodles. And the nasty, greasy smell it’ll impart to your room while it’s aging on your desk? Will be sure to keep away all unwanted visitors that might distract you from your studies, so it’s a double win!
Next, let’s talk laundry. Do not fear the washing machine. It is your friend. I know you’ve always thought it was a magic box that things smelling of old cheese and feet went in, only to emerge sparkling white and pleasantly stank-free, but it’s actually a machine that anyone can learn to use. (Much like the lawnmower you never quite mastered.)
For starters, if you use the standard three-pile method of organization, you can extend the time between trips to the laundry room.
pile #1- mostly clean, good for at least another day or two’s wear, depending on the stain factor
pile #2- questionable, if turned inside out and able to pass the sniff test, then good for another day
pile #3- definitely dirty, possibly evolving into a new life form
The three-pile method works best when you actually manage to keep the CLEAN laundry (ie hasn’t been worn even once) IN the dresser and OFF the floors. I know this is gonna be difficult for you, but I have every faith that it’s a skill you can master with some time and effort.
Another word of laundry wisdom, set yourself a monthly budget. No, I’m not talking about money for the machines or to buy more detergent. I know better than that. I meant for new socks and underwear.
Trust me, there will come a day when you open the top drawer and without your magical laundry gremlins to replenish it (that was always me, by the way) it will be empty of clean anything. Then you’ll move to pile #1 and find it also lacking in useable items.
I’m gonna pause here and pray that you NEVER perform the pile #2 sniff test on anything underwear related or are tempted to turn them inside out to gain more use. (Let’s just make a deal, I’ll pretend you don’t and you lie to me about it, OK? Thanks sweetie.) Anyway, this just means you’ll end up at WalMart buying new undies, since you won’t have time to actually wash anything from pile #3.
By budgeting yourself early on, you’ll know exactly how many months you can go before you’re forced to do a real-life load of laundry. That way, we can plan a skype call before then, so I can walk you through the sorcery of hot/cold rinse cycles and you can avoid the embarrassment of wearing something that resembles an elastic waistband and three threads held together by a prayer.
Now that covering your nekkedness’s taken care of, let’s have a little chat about hygiene. (Because I raised you and I KNOW you, that’s why.) The comb is your friend. It is completely safe to use, not only daily, but multiple times a day. I know you think the messy look is “in” but trust me honey, when your hair begins looking like a Peruvian woven basket, it looks good on no one.
Beards. I understand that college doesn’t have the same clean shaven rules that high school did and you’re gonna be tempted to let your chin grooming fall by the wayside. Don’t. Facial hair that needs the jaws of life to find your pie hole so you have a target to shove the pizza at, is never a positive thing. If you’re not going to shave, at least try to keep the thing trimmed. Hairs have no nerve endings, so using the clippers won’t hurt at all.
I know you probably don’t believe me, but despite what you think, basket head and bird’s nest beard will never scream, “Independant man about town!” Instead, they’ll whimper, “I miss my Mom telling me to comb my hair.” And even though I’ll miss you too, you need to at least try to keep up a brave front.
One last thought about your appearance; re-applying deodorant and/or body spray is not a substitute for a real soap-and-water shower. You may feel like that 15 minutes is wasting valuable time you could be putting toward studying for the next day’s test, but trust me on this, take the shower. You’ll find it a lot easier to focus on your work if your eyes aren’t watering from the pit fumes.
Besides, a full-body clean is especially important if you’ve run out of clothes from pile #1. That extra protection against BO funk will be needed when you’re wearing things from pile #2.
I may have mentioned all the studying I know you’ll be doing, because you WILL, right? After all, it is why you’ll be there in the first place, right? But I’m also a realist, so here’s a few things to remember about your extracurricular activities.
Parties. I know they happen. And even though we both know you’re a good boy, peer pressure is a real thing. Since there aren’t any actual roommates yet, I can only assume they won’t be the best of influences, so here’s the bottom line - PARTIES ARE BAD.
There's just one thing I want you to remember before you decide to attend any parties - 25 years ago, the giggly chick in the corner, drinking beer and dancing like a wild woman? Was probably ME.
This basically means, anyone you meet at a party, could’ve been your Mom. And do you really wanna hang out with Me? Yeah. Didn’t think so.
Besides, all the cute girls that you’re sure you’re gonna meet at those things? None of them will be good enough for you. (Trust me, I’m a mother and we know these things.)
One last bit of wisdom (and read carefully because this is important), save for a maid service because I will never drive three hours to clean your room before you have company over! Please, do us both the favor of allowing us to keep our respective dignities and don’t even ask.
That's pretty much all I've got for now. In case of some emergency I failed to cover, you can always call home and I'll be there for you any time!
There's just one more thing I hope you remember; whether you’re looking across the sea of faces while accepting your diploma, packing your things for the next stage of life, or kicking piles of dirty clothes and pizza boxes under your dorm room bed so you can walk, never forget how proud I am of you and how much I love you.
Happy Graduation, Son!
Author's note: The pictures of The Oldest's ceremony were taken in 2008 and my youngest Offspring grabbed his diploma and ran in 2013. This letter is a fictitious amalgamation of all the life advice I've given the four of them over the years.