As my son was heading off to a new college year, I felt the urgent need to give some advice.
I don’t know why. It’s not like he was leaving for the first time, he wasn’t living in a new place or doing something dangerous. But the new year was starting and I desperately felt like I needed to say something good. Maybe it's just me. But whether you are sending off a first grader or a college student, I'd like to think it's pretty normal to want to share advice before our kids head out the door.
When I say advice, I mean profound words, inspiring words. I imagine them to be the kind of words spoken while an awesome soundtrack is playing in the background as my hair blows beautifully in the wind. I wanted “made for TV movie-style advice.” Instead, it was the complete opposite. This was my moment to share something profound and I blew it.
Instead of profound words, I heard myself asking more and more questions, like if he needed cleaning supplies or if he had enough toilet paper. All of it was to delay his leaving, trying to think of something wonderful to say. Peppering him with practical questions about groceries, books, schedules, and cleaning supplies was my own form of delaying him on purpose. In truth, I just wanted to see his face for a few minutes more, memorizing how the boyish edges were suddenly shifting into a quietly confident man.
Instead of imparting wisdom, I asked about toilet paper and Windex. Good job mom, well done.
I think back to when I was leaving for college. My mom always hugged and kissed me lavishly and sent me off simply with a covering of love. My dad, always the serious one, studied me intently and asked about books and gas money. He would slip me a twenty-dollar bill, calling it “hamburger money” – a longstanding tradition in our family. Less about the money, the hamburger money was a loving tradition from his siblings in Puerto Rico who would send small bills when he was in college with barely enough money for food.
What’s beautiful and simple about the school sendoffs of my youth were not the wise words. It was not in the eloquent speeches or the magnificent inspiration. It was in the purest form: showing up in love.
With adult eyes, I look back now and I see my parents were doing what I was doing. My dad’s questions about books and gas money were my version of toilet paper and Windex. My mom’s lavish hugs were her way of memorizing the child that was becoming an adult. They knew all of these moments were fleeting and would soon be gone. Instead of wasting it with words, they watched with love. Instead of waxing eloquent wisdom of what to do and conquering the world, they were about one thing: seeing me.
Sometimes the greatest gift we can give our children is not about words, but truly being with them and seeing them. I share that as a reminder to myself and to anyone else who is sending someone off – whether to grade school or into adulthood. Because far too soon, they are moving on into the next season and the next chapter. Truly the most important thing they need is to know they are loved beyond measure.
My advice is no advice: just love. More than inspiring words, our kids need to know we are with them and for them. Whether it’s with hugs, talks about Windex, or hamburger money. In whatever ways we can, the most important thing is to simply show up in love.
PS. If you are looking for some inspiring words, here are some great ones from W.E.B. DuBois’s Advice to His Teenage Daughter. This is from James Clear’s newsletter below, best heard with inspiring music playing in the background and your hair blowing in the wind as a bonus.