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The long ‘See you later’

| Jen Kieffer

I started to call this post "The Long Goodbye," but when my oldest daughter leaves the nest to head to college or whatever other grand adventure awaits her after high school, it won't be a final "goodbye" by any means. So, I went with the slightly less dramatic, "See you later" instead.

My daughter is 13 years old. She has one more year of middle school (that's what our district calls grades 6-8) and then she enters high school. Graduation and college (or other options) are a ways off yet. But it's there.

I work at UW-Eau Claire, and everywhere I look these days there are blogs, articles and the like talking about kids leaving home. Things like, "What parents want their kids to say to them before leaving home." Advice from the schools themselves telling new freshmen to let their parents dote on them and embarrass them on move-in day, because it's hard for parents to leave their babies at school. "Things I actually DID listen to my parents about." You get the idea.

I read these things, and I'm several years away from that, and yet I get teary. A little verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves. I'll give you a topic ... (That's a Mike Myers Coffee Talk reference, if you didn't recognize it right away.)

Jeez, mom, pull yourself together. OK.

Why does this far-off event in the future bring me such angst right now? I have oodles of time left, right?

Well, sure, I think I do. What brings the painful feelings is ... what if I don't tell her everything I want to tell her before then? What if I always think I have more time, and then I end up being too late and it's time for her to go?

Now, I know it's not like she's going to be totally unable to communicate with me, and I with her, after she leaves home that first time. We'll still be able to talk about the big things (and the little) when we need to.

But these days when she is at home, right there, easily accessible (when she's not in her room with the door closed) are rare, and not forever, and they will end at some point. This is the time for me to really listen to her, and talk with her about the things she's going through, dreaming of, planning for. Tell her the things I want to make sure she knows before she's off into the world.

Things like ...

Keep reading. Voraciously. You'll be a better writer because of it. And I know it brings you joy, as it does me. We're alike that way.

Hang on to your interests and passions. Don't give up something you love doing because someone else thinks it's silly or unimportant. Keep those interests alive. Having those things to focus on will help save you from the traps in thinking that your image, what you look like, how thin you are, what clothes you wear, who your friends are, what boys like you or which ones you like, define who you are as a young woman.

Faith is an important thing in our family ... but you're going to have doubts and questions, and people will challenge whatever your beliefs are. Embrace those doubts, ask those questions, and figure out faith and what you believe for yourself. My faith, your grandparents' faith, your step-dad's faith ... is not your faith. You must find your own way. God's love is big enough to handle your questions and your doubts, no matter what your conclusions are.

You're a beautiful young woman, inside and out. The outside beauty is sometimes all people focus on. Your worth is so, so, SO much more than what you look like. Take care of your body, yes. Don't obsess over it. Be active, have fun being active, and don't freak out about exercise or eating a certain way. Take a balanced approach to both and you will be just fine.

If you like science, take science classes. If you like math, take math classes. As kids get older it seems girls drop out of science and math more often and choose other interests, which is fine, if that's not where your true interests lie. But if you ARE passionate about science and math, KEEP DOING IT.

I think you're a really special person, and I'm not just saying that because I'm your mom. You've always been a good kid, you get straight A's, you're rarely in trouble, etc. All those usual reasons. But it's other things I see that make you special.

You take care of those smaller than you.

You get silly with your little sister because you know she loves it and idolizes you.

You play Rollerblade hockey in the driveway with your little brother and you don't let him score/win.

You (sometimes) laugh at your step-dad's humor instead of eye-rolling.

You care about your soccer teammates and how they're beaten down by others' comments during a game. You encourage them.

You like watching movies with your dorky mom. Harry Potter forever.

You are lighthearted about your faults and mess-ups. That's a very healthy thing, to laugh at yourself sometimes. It's important not to take ourselves too seriously.

You truly enjoy volunteering for others and packing lunches at Feed My People Food Bank. Makes my heart happy. Never lose that.

OK. I think I've gone on way too long. I hope I can say I've talked about all these things and more by the time she's ready to get the heck outta Dodge, so to speak.

Let me never forget that while I think there will always be time, someday it will be someday. While she's here, while our kids are here ... let's talk to them. Listen closely. While they're here.