My Funky Little Monkey-Butt,

Your car is packed full of everything you own and it’s sitting in the driveway, patiently waiting to whisk you off toward your future and far away from me. I took the liberty of putting an emergency hammer and seatbelt cutter in the glove compartment between the two front seats, and there’s a new umbrella and a heavy duty LED Maglite in the pocket of your driver’s side door. The flashlight shines so brightly you could send Morse code signals to the International Space Station if you wanted to, but it also doubles as a blunt force weapon. You know, just in case you accidentally summon aliens to your location instead of a tow truck or something.

While you’re out there driving through the world alone, please try not to let your fuel level fall below a quarter of a tank. Your dad lovingly refers to me as “Gas Troll” because I nag him about that same thing whenever we’re on road trips together, but the truth is when you’re traveling unfamiliar roads it can be hard to tell how far away the next gas station might be. You never know when there will be an emergency (think zombie apocalypse or a sharknado) and you’ll need to travel a long distance at a moment’s notice without having the opportunity to stop for gas first.

I realize that I’m sort of rambling right now. That’s because I’m finding it hard to know what to say to you. This moment came too soon. I’m not really sure how it happened but the last eighteen years seem to have passed by us in an instant; one minute you were the tiny redheaded infant who was snuggled so tightly in my arms and in the next you’ve become the beautiful and determined young woman who’s reading this letter. After all of those occasions when I joked about the first day of school being “Adult Christmas”, marveling at how much I genuinely enjoyed the peace and quiet of the house whenever the bus pulled away and took you to school, I honestly thought that I would be ready for today. I’m not. Letting you go is hard for me, but I’m doing the best I can to accept the reality of you reaching adulthood. You’re going places, kiddo. I hate that I won’t be there with you to make sure that you’re okay. At the same time, I’m incredibly excited for you. I promise I won’t become one of those creepy mothers who lives vicariously through her children’s experiences, though.

You already know pretty much everything there is to know about the world, don’t you? Pay attention to my advice, anyway. Humor your mother just one more time because I’m not going to be in your face every day, making sure that you’ve eaten a healthy breakfast, checking to see that you have everything you need before you head out the door, asking if you’ve charged your cell phone…

Speaking of which: please keep your phone charged. You’re absolutely terrible at that! How hard is it to remember to toss your phone on the charger for a little while every day or so? Good grief. Memorize a few important phone numbers, while you’re at it. We’ve come to rely so heavily on technology – dialing folks by programmed name alone – that we no longer need to recall the critical details for making contact. If you’re ever placed in a foreign jail cell and the authorities have confiscated your cell phone, or if your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere and your phone has died because (once again) you forgot to charge it, you’ll be lost and/or imprisoned forever. As your mother, I do not want you to suffer such a lonely fate. I’ll admit I’ve got to get better at this, too; I still don’t know your dad’s new cell number and he’s had it for over a year.

You have a recent copy of the Rand McNally Road Atlas in your car and a couple of fancy GPS apps on your phone, but do you know where you’re going? A thousand bucks says you don’t, and you know what? That’s normal. Grownups love to preach about the importance of furthering your education, of finding a career to be passionate about right away and jumping head-first down the appropriate chute to get there as soon as possible. You’re barely out of high school. It’s okay to not know exactly what you want to do with the rest of your life. And it’s okay to change your mind later on. You’re going to experience so much personal growth and change during your twenties that you might end up in a completely different place than you’re imagining for yourself today. Life is one big adventure and you have to find your own way, even if it’s more of a puke-inducing roller coaster than it is a corporate ladder.

As your escapades begin, consider applying for a passport as soon as possible. They take weeks to process and you never know what kind of amazing, spur-of-the-moment travel opportunity may be offered to you through your college, your employment, or your social circles. You, my sweet girl, have inherited your mother’s gypsy spirit. Embrace it. Experience as much of the world as you can because it is a magical place full of interesting people and untold stories.

Along the way, you are going to make mistakes. While you’re young and flexible, learn what you can from them. When you’re old and gray (and hopefully not too crippled by osteoporosis – make sure you take your calcium supplements regularly), look back and laugh at all of the ridiculous blunders you made. Educate, entertain, and terrify future generations by sharing your anecdotes of what-not-to-do. No matter what happens, don’t ever allow your errors to define the person you are. Don’t let them scare you away from taking chances at any point in your life because you just never know how things will turn out. At the same time, don’t be afraid to change the things that aren’t working for you. You get one chance at this particular life, you shouldn’t settle for anything that – or anyone who – makes you feel inferior or unhappy. You are a wonderful person. You’re intelligent, tenacious, beautifully ironic, and so warmhearted. You deserve all the best that life has to offer.

With that being said, not every thing is going to go your way all of the time. I wish I could guarantee you that it will, but let’s be honest – it won’t. Quite frankly, circumstances will occasionally turn into complete shit no matter what you do. That’s the unpredictable nature of life. Try your best to accept those indeterminate challenges that lay ahead because they’ll make you stronger. They’ll hopefully make you much wiser. They will also increase your capacity for helping others who are struggling with their own battles. I hope that you never lose your compassion for people, your empathy, or your patience. The world can be an unmerciful place and at times it will absolutely push you to your limits, but it needs you.

I need you, too.

I want you to remember that you always have a home here. Don’t let your pride stop you from coming back to the place where you grew up if that’s what you feel you need to do at some point in the future. I’m not going to turn your bedroom into an exercise room or a craft room as soon as you drive away today because we both know how much I hate exercise and crafts. This house is your home and it will always be here for you as long as your dad and I draw breath, and even after that because you’re in the will.

I love you so much. You don’t have to call me every day – in fact, I hope you have such a marvelous time that you’re not even able to – but do check in once in a while. I’ll be thinking of you, always. Well, except for maybe when I’m pooping. Or when I’m having sex with your dad because ewww…. that’s a total mood killer.

(Admit it: you’re going to miss my exquisite mental tortures. Just you wait until you have children of your own – you’re going to have so much fun passing on the legacy, I promise.)

Anyway… drive safely. Always yield to pedestrians, even if they act like douchebags and you’re tempted to run them over. That’s what daydreams are for.

Don’t pick up hitchhikers, no matter how cute they are, because serial killers are always the people we least expect. (Also, please don’t ever be a hitchhiker for that very same reason.)

Do not accept abuse from anyone. Ever. If someone abuses you in any way, get the hell out of the situation and never look back – not even once. If you need me, I will be there no matter where you are or how far I have to travel in order to reach you. I’ll even help you to dispose of the body and provide an alibi.

Practice safe sex every single time you have it because some diseases are permanent and those momentary lapses in judgement cannot be undone.

Read books more often than just once in a while.

Don’t break the bank, but do go out and enjoy live music as often as possible.

Avoid taking any drugs that are offered to you because you can’t be sure of what you’re actually being given.

Remember that it’s okay to say “no” to people; you did it all the time when you were three so I know you’re capable of it.

Try to stay positive no matter what happens in your life; things could be worse than they are and there is always someone else out there who’s got a heavier load to bear.

You’ve been blessed with the gift of effortless wit and sarcasm – use it. Humor will see you through the worst of times, and it will make the best of times even better. Never lose the ability to laugh at yourself, or at other people, or just because.

I think that’s everything. Well, not really… not even close. But you’re fixin’ to leave and I’m unfortunately out of time. I’d give anything to have more.

Go forth and conquer the world, kiddo. It’s waiting for you.

All my love,
Mom

P.S. Don’t forget to stop for gas whenever you hit 1/4 tank! I’m telling you right now, if a zombie typhoon suddenly drops out of the sky and whirls bloodthirsty havoc through your city, you’ll thank me while you speed along the highway, whistling a happy tune and leaving behind a wake of screaming victims who didn’t heed the same advice from their own mothers.

(This post originally ran on Please Stop Putting Crackers Down My Shirt.)

Alison Huff
Author

A lover of lapsang souchong tea, unnaturally-colored hair, and Oxford commas, Alison’s stories are written with a signature blend of humor and brutal honesty. She often jokes that she became a writer so she could speak to the masses without actually having to TALK to them face to face, but words are indeed her greatest strength. She revels in weaving them together to tell an entertaining story, rouse laughter, offer reassurance, provide sympathy, or just to give the world a piece of her mind.

5 Comments

  1. I found this essay entirely beautiful in every way, and it touched me deeply. My beloved daughter, my only child, is starting high school this fall. Already I’m dreading the thought of her leaving for college in four years. The other day I unexpectedly started crying about it … and I NEVER cry. This essay is the best I’ve read about the ache mothers feel about their children leaving the nest — funny, sweet (but not maudlin), spirited, and oh-so-true about the constant lessons in taking care of oneself. Thank you for writing this.

  2. Jolyn Bush Reply

    Beyond perfect essay. Expresses real feelings of “letting go” in a most true, poignant and enjoyable way.

  3. BETTY D. WORLEY Reply

    YOU SOUND LIKE SUCH A WONDERFUL MOM. I HOPE THIS IS TRUE AND NOT JUST SOMETHING YOU MADE UP AND PENNED FOR US TO READ. SO MUCH OF IT I HAVE LIVED. (MY THREE CHILDREN ARE GROWN AND THIS NOW APPLIES TO TWO OF MY GRANDCHILDREN WHO ARE IN THE FIRST AND SECOND YEAR OF COLLEGE.) BY THE WAY, MY DAUGHTER LIVES IN OHIO….. THANK YOU FOR MAKING MY DAY. I JUST LOST MY FAVORITE NEICE WHO WAS LIKE A SISTER. THANKS AGAIN.
    BETTY D. WORLEY
    CANTON, NC

  4. Lee Anne Galasso Reply

    Allison, I found this article while trying, in a moment of sorrow, to prepare my grieving mother’s heart for my firstborn’s imminent departure. At 26, we’ve had more time than most to prepare for this day. We were lucky (and I don’t mean that sarcastically) to have her living here as she worked her way through college. Now, it’s on to her dream job 8+ hours away from home. So many of your points and paragraphs and inside jokes apply to our own relationship. We are all filled with so much excitement and pride and …. sorrow. I know it will get better. I know it will be different. I know I will miss her. Anyway… I just wanted to reach out and say thank you for this beautifully written piece. Lee Anne

  5. Barbara kiefner Reply

    Ole my goodness this is so perfect to give my daughter on her way to college!! I can’t thank you enough for the humor you put into the seriousness as you know they think they are grown! Thank you for every great point you hit that every mother’s heart must feel. Oh I forgot about the gas part holy moly thank you!! This is just perfect period!

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