My brilliant friend Harper (she made me say that) suggested I write a column about all the things I want my daughters to know before they leave home, and follow it with one for my son. The problem with my son is he’s two, and his mother only has sisters and logged years of Girl Momhood until he showed up, spraying us during diaper changes and making his fourth-time parents fumble and bumble like rookies all over again. I’m kind of clueless. As the fourth child he’s just getting what his sisters did so far; by the time he’s a little older, I’ll probably just say, ‘Act like your dad,’ because he has a pretty great dad and that seems safe for now.
I’m not even sure that much of what I want to teach him will be all that different from what I hope I’ve instilled in my girls. I hope they all know how to change a tire if needed and know when to call in AAA. He needs to know how to not turn all his clothes pink from a new red shirt as much as the girls because mommy hates laundry and won’t fix it for you.
They all need to know the difference between friends that are fun and people you can trust and depend on. Ask me again in a couple years and I’m sure I’ll have lots of ideas that are specific to him, but I think ‘watch how daddy treats people’ is a good fallback plan if there’s just no good parenting wisdom left in me after my daughters have dragged me through a few years of three teenage girls in one house.
But my girls. I’m a girl, I know girls. I have two sisters and I have an excellent memory of middle school, high school, and college. I’ve read blog posts in the past with lists of things the authors want their daughters to know before they’re grown and it all sounds great. I scroll through thinking, ‘That’s a good one, ooh I should remember that, hmm—hadn’t thought of that one.’ It can get overwhelming when you’re still in the trenches of ‘no, your sisters lied, werewolves don’t howl at a full moon and then come eat little girls in their rooms’ or ‘I’m not even going to ask you if you really brushed your teeth because I can tell from here—don’t lie to me, just go back upstairs and actually use toothpaste.’
Imparting the wisdom they’ll need to maintain healthy relationships and deal with difficult people takes a backseat to teaching them how to find their freaking shoes just this once without your help.
If I was more of a planner, I might have some kind of actual plan laid out for what I hope to teach my kids before they fly the coop—but that’s a level of organization that my garage, closet, and bathroom cabinets would tell you is not possible for me.
To even consider making a comprehensive list of this sort is completely intimidating to me. To cook a meal, you use a recipe that has all the ingredients and amounts needed to create a complete dish; unless you’re my cousin, Hillary James, who just throws this and that in a pan to make magic—which is zero help to your friends who call asking for the recipe because you use words like ‘dash’ and ‘some’ and ‘enough of’ when they ask for the amounts.
How much is ‘enough’ cream? When you say ‘some’ pepper—is that a lot or a little? Hillary finally started making up amounts for me after tiring of my questions and I caught her because she had never used the term ‘half tablespoon’ when recipe sharing in her life. “You just made up every amount you gave me, didn’t you?” She said, “Yep, you liked that didn’t you?” Yep, I was okay with it. I’ve heard it said that real chefs and good cooks don’t use recipes and I’m pretty sure Hillary and I prove that to be true.
Making a list of all the things needed to launch a child into adulthood implies that one actually knows all the things needed be a grown-up... and I am 100 percent sure that is not true about me. I don’t have the recipe for how to turn children into fully equipped adults—I’m cooking like Hillary in this instance.
So, instead of a comprehensive recipe—how about this, ‘An Incomplete List of a Few Things That Might be Helpful but Which Still Won’t Keep You from Making a Million Mistakes and Feeling Like You’re Winging it Most of the Time.’ Catchy, right? It’ll go viral on Buzzfeed by next week.
• The nerds in middle and high school make the coolest adults, and the mean girls and ‘too cool for it guys’ are often still just that as adults—only nobody really likes them anymore except maybe them.
• If you’re playing dumb to maintain acceptance in a friendship or a relationship, then you aren’t as smart as you think you are.
• There is no such thing as too many books. Even if you prefer a kindle—still buy the books. Pack them in shelves and on side tables; buy the actual book of the ones you loved on kindle just so you can see a copy on your bedside table and remember how much you loved it. And buy them from independent booksellers, Amazon gets enough of your money.
• Be the kind of friend people say they could ‘call in the middle of the night for anything’: but know when it’s time to put your ringer on silent.
• Keep tweezers in your car because chin hairs and eyebrow hairs that have sprouted from your forehead always show up when you’re headed somewhere important and natural sunlight at a stoplight is better than any lighted magnifying mirror money can buy. Yes—chin hairs, the dirty secret of hormones. Everybody gets them, nobody talks about them.
• Be the kind of person people know better than to make racist or any kind of bigoted jokes around—live your life in a way that makes it clear you aren’t having it.
• Find a pair of boots or heels that when they strike the ground, you feel like you’re on a runway or about to save the world. And then buy them in every color. Call me, I’ll chip in.
• If someone talks smack about other people to you, they’ll talk smack about you to other people. Pick friends who don’t; be the friend others know won’t.
• When you find a lipstick color that doesn’t turn orange or clumpy on you, buy at least five—it will get discontinued.
• If you can’t sing every word of ‘American Pie’ and ‘Fancy’ at the top of your lungs, complete with dramatic gestures by the time you leave for college—I’ve failed you.
• Don’t let anybody give you crap about loving ‘Fancy.’ It’s timeless and it’s part of your heritage. I hope you make friends that you pick your own college anthem with, the one you all end up on stages singing at their weddings, the one you call and sing into their voicemail from your car on a Tuesday morning because it came on the radio, the kind that makes you feel warm and loved and young and silly every time you hear it. Pick your own, but never forget ‘Fancy.’
• People will assume things about you because you’re from Mississippi; make them feel foolish for their assumptions simply by being you. Then forgive them for this and introduce them to Comeback sauce, Gammy’s dirty rice, and Annie’s buttermilk chicken. Know enough about your state’s history to own up to the darkest parts without qualification, be able to share the unsung beauty that’s come from your home, and change minds with grace.
• Always own a back-up blow dryer. It can be as crummy as the one on the wall at a Holiday Inn—but one day you’ll be in hurry and yours will die. Call me and tell me I was right; you know how I love that.
• In the words of my dad, always be the kind of person who stops to buy lemonade from kids, but be smart enough not to drink it.
• Save letters and notes in a shoebox—they just might be the notes you passed your best friend in class when you were 15 that she reads at your rehearsal dinner that say you’re going to marry that boy who looks cute in a black cowboy hat and shows up for dates with a wet car because he takes it through the car wash before coming to your house every. single. time. You’ll be mortified, but love that you were right.
You’ll fail at probably every single thing on this list. Repeatedly. I have, and I will again. People who say they don’t are lying or delusional. Apologize, forgive yourself, and do the next right thing you can. Even if it’s just buying car tweezers.
Elizabeth Quinn makes her home in Northeast Jackson with her husband Percy and four children.