Reprinted with the author’s permission. The essay was originally published in The New York Times on August 13, 2019.
Any parent with an ounce of self-knowledge will agree that parenting is a multi-decade exercise in recalibration. In our house we are either grossly overreacting or, just as unsettling, underreacting. Here’s my question, as another class of kids get very close to leaving home: What if they remember only the worst parts? What version of us will they be taking with them?
Will we be the well-meaning but cloying Marion Cunningham, who just wants them to keep being the best Junior Chipmunk they can be? Will we be the confrontational but loving Tami Taylor who follows them around the house asking why their eyes are so red and what the hell that smell is? Or the nit-picking Betty Draper who thinks their hair would look better parted on the side? Will we be some unholy mash up of Peg Bundy and Carmela Soprano, grousing about our husbands while reaching for the chardonnay?
To every child everywhere who is leaving home soon, could we agree that we love each other and that’s what matters? And real quick, before you go, let’s just make sure we covered everything. Like, did we tell you that the THC in edibles is no joke? Did we tell you not to take other people’s Adderall to help you study? Did we tell you about that guy we know who got addicted to heroin after trying it just one time?
Do you understand the basics of nutrition? Or will you learn the hard way? Do you have fiscal sense? Do you know paycheck pride? Did we tell you when you see a soldier in uniform you should say “Thank you for your service,” even if feels corny.
Should we have talked about all the kinds of people there are? How many sagas and surges of ego and remorse each one of us comes with? How profound friendship turns out to be? How long it takes to develop?
Did we explain the critical trade-off between being right and being happy? Oh, the time we lost looking for your retainer.
When you’re in your dorm room, prop your door open so people can lean in. When you’re walking around on campus, put your phone in your backpack. Say hi. Saying hi is really good.
Driving while texting is the new drinking and driving. Uber is the answer but don’t climb in the wrong car. Make the driver say your name and let a friend track your location.
About cornhole. When you toss it, let go sooner. You’re holding on too long. That’s why it’s going straight up.
Don’t let anyone make you a drink. Don’t be afraid to stay home sometimes. I heard some kids really like a board game called the Settlers of Catan.
Don’t leave your laptop plugged in all night; I don’t know why but I heard it’s not good for the battery. Granola bars have a lot of sugar. If you don’t wash your hair after swimming in chlorine, it will turn green. The stamp goes in the upper right-hand corner of the envelope.
Diets are stupid. Don’t obsess over your container. Don’t pose like a swimsuit model on Instagram.
One minute of meditation is the world’s easiest mood reset.
You’ll always get a better grade if you sit in the front and ask questions. And go to the professor’s office hours — not enough people do that.
Vote. Figure out how you feel about things like reparations, universal basic income, gene editing. March. Activism often works. Try not to get arrested. Unless it’s for a really good cause. Go abroad. The guy you’re hoping to play beer pong with will be there when you get back. And anyway, there’s a really nice version of him waiting to play bocce with you in Florence. Get some sleep. Sleep can really put the world back in order.
Be patient. College might end up being “the best four years of your life” but that doesn’t mean there won’t be days where you feel aimless or lonely or maxed out. Be nice. To yourself too.
You’re not listening anymore, are you? You can’t blame us for trying. We know our stupid geyser love is overkill but God help us, we are deluged with feeling.
Your flaws, your breakdowns, your craven hygiene, it’s all faded now and there is only the beginning, scenes from the long-ago days of diaper genies and burp cloths. Your perfect flat feet, sole to sole, in my hand. Your arm around my neck. Your face in the rearview mirror, humming or exploring your nose or passed out, gripping your bottle like a drunk.
And just like that, here you are, shrugging us off, to blow it and fix it, lose it and learn to live without it, break it and put it back together and tell us only half the story, leaving us to ourselves, with only our own lives to manage.
Thank you for indulging us. You are clearly ready. When drop-off day comes, just keep nodding and giving us the thumbs-up as we drive away aching with hope and wonder and mortality and everything going much too fast and up all night-what do you need-I’m right here love.
Kelly Corrigan is the author of “Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say.” This essay is adapted from a performance the actress Helen Hunt presented with the author at a benefit for UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland