A surefire way to feel middle- aged: Drive a minivan from the suburbs to your alma mater to request your college transcript from a student who probably wasn’t born yet when you graduated.
Further proof of my middle-aged-ness: While I wandered the campus for the first time in 20 years, I was composing words of advice for my children.
Dear Cooper and Katie,
I’m not consumed with regrets. My past is littered with mistakes, but those missteps are part of an ongoing journey that has placed me in this community, in this house, as your mom. This is exactly where I want to be, and you are whom I want to be with.
For most of my college years, I was a messy mess. I can’t go back to fix that now, but I can share some of my mistakes — and hope that you might avoid similar troubles.
My school wasn’t my first choice, but it was the one I could afford. Instead of embracing the experience, I was sometimes a little grumpy. I wish I had arrived at every class with the cheerful spirit that you both have when you leave for school each morning.
If you spy my grades from those years, you’ll see that I didn’t always do my best. I slept through more lectures than I can count. (I don’t recommend 8 a.m. classes in giant lecture halls — too easy to blend in, then zone out, if you’re exhausted.)
I struggled with balance — academic life, personal life, work.
I ate terribly. My go-to staples were Diet Coke (up to six cans a day) and Little Debbie snack cakes (the kind I refuse to buy for you now). I was thin but unhealthy. I lacked energy and a decent immune system.
But it wasn’t all a disaster. When I consider what went well, there are some discernible patterns.
Sometimes I took risks, enrolling in classes outside my comfort zone. I tried accounting, just to see if I’d missed my calling as a financial wizard.
I was not a star accounting student, but I gained an understanding of debits, credits, depreciation and other concepts that are helpful in adult life. And I’ve never since questioned if I should have enrolled in business school instead of journalism school.
One of my four P.E. classes was ballet. I hadn’t taken ballet since first grade. I was uncomfortable wearing a leotard and leaping across the studio around people I didn’t know. By the end of the semester, I’d discovered confidence I sorely needed.
My passion then, as it is now, was reading and writing. I had always loved newspapers, but college is where I fell in love with the work of putting a newspaper together.
Once I found a group of people with a similar passion, I started to enjoy school more. We shared a devotion to journalism, but we represented diverse backgrounds, beliefs and values. We argued and learned to compromise.
We were a ragtag team that supported one another — a glimpse for me of how adults create sustaining circles of friendship.
Your own transition from childhood to adulthood is just a few years away. I promise to support you in taking risks (well, you know, reasonable risks — not the illicit drug-use kind) and to allow you space to discover your passions. I promise to encourage you when classes or relationships get tough. I promise that I will never stop emphasizing the importance of a healthy diet.
And I promise to do my best to remember that I can’t fix my past mistakes through you. Your college years will be your journey, not mine. I just look forward to discovering with you where your paths lead.