MAY 9, 2009 1:57PM

A Letter to my Son: Advice to pack with you when you go

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MS football

 Middle School Football

Dear James,

I am writing this letter on the eve of your senior retreat. We have been lucky, you and I.  I don’t know many mothers that have the kind of relationship with their children that I have with you. 

You have been one of the bright lights of my life.

At 18 and about to graduate you are at the precipice of your adult life. If I wasn’t going to be around for the next 18 years, here are a few of the things that I would want you to remember:

  • As your Grandfather Marvin always said, "Moderation in all things."
  • As Grammy says, “I never promised you it would be easy.” And your mother adds, “It won’t be."
  • On the really big decisions, pause before you act. Look before you leap. But then follow your gut.
  • Stay close to God in all things, in whatever religion you choose, or not.
  • I’ve learned over the last 50 years not to follow a 5 or 10 year plan. Have direction but then follow the opportunities that are presented to you.
  • A person’s kindness and ability to love are more impressive than the depth of their intellect or pocketbook.
  • Appreciate what you have. The grass is not always greener.
  • Most important things cannot be measured in dollars.
  • Looks are not the most important thing, which is related to another truth, looks can be deceiving.
  • There is no substitute for spending time with your children and spouse. You can never recoup those moments.
  • Don’t let familiarity take the joy and surprise out of your relationships.
  • Be gentle with your family and friends. People are fragile.
  • Often the best first course of action is to listen and shut up.
  • Learn from all people, regardless of their educational or income level. There are a lot of idiots and evil people with degrees and money.
  • See the magic in everyday things.
  • Know you aren't the center of the universe.
  • Find the humor in the absurd.
  • Decide to be happy.
  • If you make a mistake, say you’re sorry. Reverse course, if necessary.
  • Talk and stay close to your parents.
  • Stay close to your brother. You need each other. Believe me.
  • A partner is a man’s best asset. Men don’t belong alone. They need a balancing energy.
  • Don’t pick a spouse that is tortured or needs "fixing,” even if she is the most interesting and sexy thing to ever rock your world.
  • Don’t forget that you were named after my father. He was a great man, even though during his last years you may not have known that.

I want to close this letter with snippets of things I remember from your life, that I will cherish always.

  • You hopping on one foot on a chair reciting the names to 1000 dinosaurs in our basement when you were 18 months old. You were smart. You were also always moving.
  • Making colored cake frosting with dye made out of beets, because you were on a “no artificial color or flavor diet.” You never complained.
  • Reading books, any books and you saying, “More!”
  • Reading you Br'er Rabbit when you were 3, complete with different voices and accents and you saying, "You know, you're really good at this. I would pay good money for this experience." 
  • You running after me wanting “breasting” at 3 years old.
  • You and Daniel rolling on the floor like a couple of squirrels and me wondering whether you were going to kill yourselves. I never could make you stop.
  • As a young child, you telling me that although my 3 month trip to Sri Lanka would be very hard on you, you "wanted whatever I wanted and whatever was best for me."
  • Our trip to Disney World to toast the end of your childhood during the summer after the 8th grade. You chose the rides, the hotel movies, and the time we got up and went to sleep: which of course meant that we went to bed at 2 a.m., got up at noon, and went on the scariest rides during the hottest part of the day.
  • Our sailing trip on Lake Pontchartrain for dad’s and my sailing class graduation. You loved the speed, the waves and the wind as much as we did. Whatever genetic propensity for risk taking your father and I have, you got it times 3, which made me wonder if you would simply fly off of the boat because you refused to hold on!
  • You taking me to see “Knocked Up” because I was stressed. Being the oldest person in the audience by 3 decades made the storyline sort of illicit. By the end of the movie we were hysterically laughing and rolling in the aisle.
  • Our trip to Atlanta to visit Emory. You drove the rental car even though you weren’t authorized to do so because I was such a nervous wreck in the Atlanta traffic. You said to me, "Mother Stop. If you were an animal you would be shedding," which of course imediately reversed the negative tone of the day and put me in the passenger's seat where I belonged.
  • Playing me Flight of the Concords songs on your guitar, complete with accents. You make me howl.
  • Your beautiful poems. My favorite was the one from kindergarten that starts,“you hath clothed me and you hath loved me.” It hangs on our wall.
  • You throwing your nephew up in the air and yelling,"Duuuummmmbledooorrrre!!”
  • Your always smiling face. Your big heart. Your love of your friends and their families.
  • Helping your Grammy ‘on demand’ in the garden.
  • Us cooking together.
  • You encouraging me to write about anything, but mostly about cooking.

 I can’t wait to see what happens during the next 18 years.

I love you James,




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family, mom, son, mother's day

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Beautiful! :) Lucky son, lucky mother!
Great letter. You both are so fortunate. Excellent advice, I'd make copies and send them every five years on your birthday. It sometimes takes a long time to recognize how right mom's are :)

Sage advice and beautiful memories!
Thank you ChicagoLawyer, Buffy and LHL. I am lucky. This happens to be from the most recent Senior Letter I've written. My eldest is almost out of his grad program, so I wrote his Senior Letter 5 1/2 years ago.

I told both of them to pack the letter in their suitcases and take it with them when they leave. At 18, they aren't very interested in hearing even more advice, particularly from their mother.


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