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Domestic Bliss

Don't forget...


The embarrassing thing about being the mother of kids on the brink of adulthood is that you realize all the things your mother taught you were absolutely right.

And you forgot them.

And you forgot to teach them to your kids.

My two youngest sons -- bright, capable boys, good students and better yet, good people -- are graduating high school next month. They are smart and accomplished; they can do math I can't even name. They are sweet and funny and kind to their friends and their girlfriends and to each other. They read good books. They're healthy (knock on wood). They are comfortable with adults.

Still, when April rolled around and the subject of graduation came up, I realized they had not a. ) ordered caps and gowns for the ceremony or b. ) ordered announcements or invitations. I was out of the country back in September when they were supposed to take care of these small items that they let slide.

When I mentioned this was a problem, they looked at me as if I were speaking a foreign language they didn't understand. We scrambled and handled the cap-and-gown problem. The invitation problem remains, and it's now 18 days until graduation.

Where did I go wrong? How could I have raised a kid who can ace AP Calculus but can't remember to close and put away the box of Honey Bunches of Oats in the morning, who doesn't know what a graduation invitation looks like?

None of these things really matter, of course, in the grand scheme of things, but I'm growing slightly frantic as the months pass toward their emancipation, thinking of all the things I haven't taught them.

Do they know, for example, that toilet paper and toothpaste don't just appear in the bathroom, that someone actually has to think of buying these things at the store before they run out? Do they know that electricity and gas and water aren't free?

I can only watch and wait, glad for who they are, fearful for all they don't yet know. Meanwhile, I'll think of all they've taught me and will try to remember everything I want them to know before they're out on their own. They might listen or they might not. They might reject everything I have to say, but I'll say it anyway, because it would be a mistake to do otherwise.

Here's what they have taught me:

Sometimes when people look like they are fighting, they really aren't mad and are just having fun.

Watching television together really can count as quality family time.

When I lose it and yell and accuse them of trying to make me crazy, it's myself I'm angry with, not them.

Boys are God's gift to mothers. They like to sit on their mother's laps long past the age when girls consider their mothers untouchable.

Here's the beginning of a long list of things I want to tell them before they go. There will be more:

When you go to college, take advantage of all the free stuff.

Go to the theater, the opera, the Balinese dance recital, the lecture on civil disobedience, the poetry reading, the political rally. You never know what might turn you on.

Write thank-you notes. If you can't manage envelopes and stamps and mailboxes, resort to e-mail -- it's better than nothing.

Learn to grow or make something: a fence, a meal, a pot of herbs.

Don't forget to call your grandmother, your father, your mother, whether you want to or not.

Remember that spending money doesn't really make you feel better in the long run. Hang on to some of it. Get someone (not your mother) to teach you how to manage it.

Spend time in the woods. Spend time staring at water. Spend time watching birds. Hang a bird feeder outside your window and marvel at their industriousness and beauty.

Listen to your body. Move it a lot. Push it to its limits. Enjoy its strength. Give it rest.

Ask people for help. They want to help you. They love explaining what you don't understand. Admitting you don't understand something is not a sign of weakness; refusing to ask someone for help is.

Stay in touch with your brothers, your sister, your friends. If you don't, they will disappear from your life, and they rarely reappear.

Leave home. Again and again. Go far away. Go to some place that scares you in theory.

Remember to come home.

When graduation comes around, please remember to order invitations.

I'll do the mailing.


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