Listening, Life Lessons and Laundry
How launching my daughters launched a book and a new look at life…
A year before she graduated high school, when it hit me that my first-born daughter would soon be leaving home for college, I became overwhelmed by a frantic urgency. She wasn’t ready.
She had worked hard to earn grades and SAT scores that put her in the running for the most selective colleges. She knew French fluently. She knew how to handle a basketball and wield a microphone. And she knew how to parallel park. (Finally.) But NOT knowing what she DID NOT know was keeping me up at night.
In one of my Hollywood-lit nightmares, I saw her standing in the middle of a busy street, cars speeding toward her, her high-heel caught in a grate, trying desperately to save the shoe. Did I forget that lesson? “Leave the shoe, honey! Save yourself!”
So many things that seem like common sense have come to us through our mothers’ words sprinkled and repeated through the years. As I prepared to let my daughter go, I could not help but wonder if my teachings had made it through the noise of the past 18 years. Did she hear the rules of thumb and the cautionary tales? Were they even relevant? Did she know what she needed to know to take care of herself in this digitized, super-sized world?
Even though she still had a few months left at home, I knew it was too late to fill the gaps in my parenting. My daughter had stopped listening.
So did I let her go with my blessing, trusting that she would get her lessons as she needed them?
Not on your life.
I bit my tongue and quietly collected the advice that I thought she should have. When she left for college, I put it all in a good-bye letter and threatened to publish it on her Facebook page.
Though you may think I’ve driven you half-crazy with reminders and lessons this past year, I’ve kept a lot of things to myself. Hush. I have.
Here are a few things that college will not teach you. Some are things I’ve told you a hundred times. Some are things that have never come up. Mostly, they are things that would make you roll your eyes if I said them in person.
So indulge me. I know you don’t need another lecture, honey. But I need to give you one. (There. Right there. I saw that eye roll!)
Love Always, Mom
#1. DO YOUR LAUNDRY OR YOU’LL DIE ALONE.
Yes, we’re starting here.
Do your laundry regularly. Try every week. Do it before you run out of clean underwear and before you need your favorite jeans. Because when you want your favorite jeans, and only your favorite jeans will do, you will want them clean. You will not want to be in the dilemma of choosing between dirty, stinky favorite jeans and jeans that make your butt look (choose one: wide, low, flat, etc.).
Either of these less-than-perfect options will undermine your self- confidence, and you will not have the courage to talk to that cute guy. And then you may never get another chance, and . . . then comes the dying alone part.
This was the first of 150 pieces of advice; some snarky, some serious, most with very little to do with the laundry.
#9. A friend who is mad at you for taking her car keys is better than a dead friend.
#28. Fake it ‘til you make it.
#29. Everyone feels like a fake. Except the real fakes.
#36. A bad attitude makes your butt look big.
#97. Show your dreams who’s boss
My daughter wrote me back within 24 hours. She had read the entire long letter. She did not offer to take a test on it, but she convinced me that a few things had sunk in.
Then she turned the tables on me, and urged me to show my own dreams who’s boss. She challenged me to turn my letter to her into a book for her little sister’s graduating class. Turns out, this was advice I needed to hear. I wasn’t ready to be done with the project. It was therapeutic, and extending it to overlap with my artwork added a new dimension of fun to it. Expanding the letter into a book was just the creative project I needed to make myself feel in control of the transition I was in the midst of.
If we’re listening, we hear the things we need to hear. We hear ideas and encouragement. We hear reasons and next steps. If we listen with fresh ears, we hear that life after 50 is offering the same challenges as life at 18 or 22. And we hear that the best advice always comes from those who care about us most.
Becky Blades is author and illustrator of Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone: Advice Your Mom Would Give if She Thought You Were Listening, a wise, witty collection of counsel for women of all ages, available April 1, 2014. Check out Becky’s web site, LaundryorDie.com, and her blog, startistry.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest @LaundryorDie.