I don’t have children. There are two beautiful souls in California that I like to think I helped to form when I had the privilege of step-mothering them for 12 years, but as for biologic offspring I chose a different path.
I am an only child. Growing up I was very close to my mom’s sister Marta and her children; my four hilarious, generous, loving, quirky and exceptional cousins. They are each so different from the other, yet there is a sameness—a baseline of caring and goodness that is unmistakably “them.” So it comes as no surprise that their children sprouted into the world with joyful abandon and hearts as big as the universe.
Three of the ten are about to leave for college. That’s 30% of the kids in the family. So what does my tribe do when faced with the annihilation of its ranks? We honor them, we spend every minute with them that they will give us and, we the elders, gather to talk about the old times and we cry and hug and laugh and say little prayers for their safety and happiness. We plot care packages, visits, holidays and how we can make things even more special for the returning warrior cubs when they deign to visit us.
Going away to college is a rite of passage. It’s exciting, liberating, scary, stressful, anticipatory and such a major huge step in becoming independent. That’s all from the perspective of the ones leaving. For those of us who watch them go it is devastating…and good. It is life.
What can we tell them that we haven’t already said a thousand times? They know to be safe. They know to choose their friends wisely. They know a healthy diet is essential to regular digestive operations. And yet they are bound to take risks that would turn our blood to ice water if we knew what they were doing. They will befriend both sinners and saints, they will gamble and there will be high fructose corn syrup and there isn’t a damn thing we can do about it and they will live and thrive and laugh and learn in spite of it. Or maybe because of it.
What do we say to them now that we haven’t said over and over for the past 18 years? I do not have children, so perhaps my advice is less words of wisdom and more “oh, Pammy, please shut up” based on my experiences at their age. However interpreted, it is all from my heart.
You truly do not know how your kindness and compassion impact the people and the world around you until one day, perhaps a year from now, perhaps when you are very old—you will find someone has held you in their heart because you showed kindness at a time when he or she was on the brink of losing all hope. You weren’t aware of it—that time you offered a stranger a helping hand with a heavy burden, or you dropped everything to drive a friend of a friend of a friend to an appointment. Unwittingly, on that day at that moment you changed the script. You saved a life. You made a difference and you never even knew it.
So always go on the assumption that the way in which you treat people will be remembered forever, by them. It is an awesome burden, this. It will define you.
Laugh at disaster.
Tell the worst day of your life to fuck off. Shy of death, there is nothing that will happen to you or around you at this time of your life that you will likely even remember when you’re 30. You will endure a broken heart, a grade you didn’t deserve, to be lonely, scared, anxious and homesick. In the big scheme of things, which means by the time you’re 22, these will have been fleeting emotions—blips on the radar from which you will learn, and those will be the things you use to feather your emotional nests as you continue to grow and mature, which is a life long occupation btw. It doesn’t end after university or grad school, marriage or retirement. It doesn’t end until your heart stops beating.
We learn through repetition. Make observation a habit. Whether you go on to become physicians, actors, artists, philosophers, philanthropists, global financiers or soccer moms or dads, every day of your future will be informed by the events of today and tomorrow, so take mental stock often and in great detail.
I promise you, the feeling of warm sand between your toes on a summer’s day with the voices of children in the background, a breeze ruffling the edge of your beach towel and the sun so bright on the water you have to look away for a second—these are the moments that will help you take flight when you least expect it.
It’s equally important that you etch instances of great sorrow and elation into your consciousness—the look on your lover’s face the first time you say I love you, and when you say I do not love you anymore. The moments that take your breath away whether you are overjoyed or seizing with heartbreak are the same moments that will one day give you strength, inspiration, comfort and the principles upon which you will make wise choices.
Be aware of how people make you feel.
Anyone who makes you feel less than, insecure, not respected or valued or treasured or beautiful is not someone you should have in your life. There are all kinds of psyche terms we could bandy here, but suffice it to say that people who can thrive only by making others miserable are rat bastards who may be pitied, but in whom zero time should be invested.
Break bread with the sinners and see if you can’t corrupt a few saints, but walk away from anyone who doesn’t make you feel good about yourself. And with that admonishment you will surely recognize the absolute need to build others up.
“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou
Go forth and change the world, and know that your tribe—those who went before and we who remain—are one footstep behind you should you stumble or fall. And when you run we will be cheering.