When the nurse in the delivery room handed me my newborn son, my first reaction was “Ewwwwww … He’s not finished. He’s so tiny and floppy and slimy. Put him back in for a few more months. I don’t think he’s ready.”
Now, 18 years later, that baby is a newborn high school graduate. In just a few weeks, he’ll be out of the house and off to college.
I don’t think he’s ready. He may be tall and hairy and registered to vote, but under that Led Zeppelin T-shirt lurks a child, an infant, a mere zygote.
Sure, in 18 years he’s made some progress. Now, he can hold his head up (except before noon on weekends). He has learned to communicate by using a system of primitive grunts, and his friends assure me that he is able to hold his own bottle (“Mom! It’s Dr. Pepper™!”). But, like the newborn who seems to need more time in the womb, my high school graduate isn’t a fully formed adult and I can’t send him out into the world without some additional preparation. There’s just three weeks to transform my young barbarian into a civilized and – dare I hope – semi-sophisticated collegian.
black;">It won’t be easy. He wants to hang out with his friends, “chill” in his room and sleep. But I bang on his bedroom door and order him to the basement, where I plan to spend the morning teaching him to identify both the washer and the dryer. Later, we will separate whites from colors and debate the merits of fabric softener.
black;">The phone rings and he leaps to answer it. I seize the moment and encourage him to engage the caller in pleasantries. I explain the nuances of taking a legible message and underscore the importance of leaving it where it has a chance of being seen. He grunts.
black;">He wanders to the kitchen for breakfast and I follow, extolling the value of a nutritious breakfast and imparting upon my son the wisdom of putting an empty milk carton into the garbage instead of back into the fridge. Every moment is a teaching moment and I am feeling optimistic. I’m sure that the reason he seems a little grumpy is because it’s still before noon.
black;">I trail him to his room where I’m hoping we can practice changing his sheets (the extra-long ones I bought for his dorm bed) and setting his new alarm clock. I’m worried that if I’m not around to pound on his door and wake him up, he’ll spend four years sleeping.
black;">I discuss the hygienic ramifications of not regularly changing the sheets, the danger of putting 100 watt bulbs in his new reading lamp and the consequences of removing the warning tags from pillows. I caution him about roommates that borrow your clothes, girls that borrow your money and anything on the Internet that promises to add or subtract inches from anywhere.
He rolls his eyes. It must be separation anxiety.
He runs down to the basement to put his clothes in the dryer. I trot behind explaining to him that you have to put money into an ATM machine before you can take money out, that waiters – even in Hooters™ – expect at least a 15 percent tip and that if you go out to dinner in a group you should never order the cheapest entree because you’ll probably split the bill.
He rolls his eyes again. I think he’s really going to miss me.
As he pulls clothes out of the dryer, I talk about the importance of wearing seat belts, sunscreen and clean underwear. I urge him to always look people straight in the eye and offer a firm handshake. I tell him that keeping your shoes and your teeth in good repair are things that, in the long run, will save you money and pain. Then he looks me straight in the eye (he’s learning!) and says, “Mom, I appreciate all your advice, but I’m going to be OK. I’m really ready for college.”
I behold the neatly folded laundry and the man in the Led Zeppelin T-shirt standing in front of me and I think … “Maybe he is ready.” But I need three more weeks.