The other day you got in the car, took a deep breath and cheerfully declared that it smelled like your childhood. I had just gotten a manicure—something I did more regularly when you were little—and I too was transported back in time. But what struck me even more was you referring to your childhood as your past. At seventeen, in the homestretch of your senior year of high school, and just shy of six feet tall (where does your height come from?) you are most definitely no longer a child.
In just a few months you’ll be expected to conduct yourself like an adult. I suggest you jettison the idea that you will be grown up by the fall and simply concentrate on being a college student. If there is ever an in-between stage in your life, college is that time. You go to college to engage in the life of the mind, but along the way you bump up against coping skills you need to have.
Your high school advisor recently told you that if she had to pick the most important housekeeping chore you need to learn, it would be to get in the habit of ironing. Much to my embarrassment, she must have noticed your wrinkled shirts over the years. As much as I love and respect your advisor, I’d say in the domestic realm you must first and foremost remember not to machine wash and dry your sweaters. There are dry cleaners near campus; I’ve seen them.
But alas I will not be near campus, and I’ve been anticipating this inevitable change, this moving out of our house, throughout your nail polish-scented childhood. The campus is a proving ground as much as it is a launching pad. You’re an astronaut of sorts, and I’ve been watching you soar since the day you were born. You belong to the stars; you are part of the ocean.
Which brings me to telling you that I’ve tried to give you the things, to expose you to the experiences, that I didn’t have. For example, I never went to camp and don’t know how to swim, but I made sure you and your sister learned. That’s just one of the many things in which you’ve surpassed me. In fact, one of the most humbling moments in parenthood for me was when I realized that you and your sister were more intelligent, more capable than I. I don’t say this to be self-deprecating. I say this filled with wonder. And although I always knew that would be the case, I was still happily surprised.
A strong word of advice regarding your prodigious intellect: there will always be someone smarter than you in the lecture hall, the dorm, even the party. You’ll encounter those people very early in your college career. Don’t compete with her. Don’t resent him. Admire her. Learn from him. Jealousy mars true scholarship; it taints the soul.
For these past few months, people have been telling me that my nest will be empty come the fall. I can’t begin to tell you how much I loathe the expression, “empty nest.” When I hear it, I think of random feathers floating in the air. The rest is just twigs and mud and loneliness.
You’ve been my constant companion for these past few years when your sister has been at college and Dad has been on the road for work. If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit you’re the reason I cook dinner. You’re the guy around whom I structure my workday as a freelance writer.
But I won’t miss sounding like a foghorn in the morning, screaming at you to get up. And it will give me great joy to look at your consistently tidy room while you’re away. I will travel a bit with Dad, travel a bit for myself. I’ll even come visit you at school once in a great while to take you to dinner. As sick as you are of my chicken potpie (what can I say, I’m a one trick pony in the kitchen—once I learn a recipe I latch on to it), you’ll be sicker of cafeteria food.
As for that nest of ours—it won’t stand empty. I’ll do a bit of rearranging, but always leaving room for you and your sister. Please know that our family is the best thing that ever happened to me. This life we have together surpasses my dreams. I hope and pray that your adult life— it will happen to you sooner rather than later—exceeds all of your expectations. And for the record, it never mattered to me whether or not you were the smartest guy in the room. I just wanted you to have the kindest soul of anyone in the world. I think you do, wrinkled shirt and all.
All my love,