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As I send my daughter off to college, here's what I wish I'd known on the first day of kindergarten

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I’d like to say I’m speaking from a place of wisdom and maturity. Basically, though, I’ve hit a point of desperately grasping at ways to hold on to an adult I used to strap into a car seat and throw Cheerios at to keep her from screaming on even the shortest car trips. In the 18 years I’ve been tap dancing through parenthood, I’ve done a few things right. My kids haven’t disowned me, so I feel like that’s something. And yet, there are reminders that would have served me well on those days I chose poorly and that would have affirmed me nicely on the days I hit it out of the park.

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Dear Kindergarten Mom Me:

The way your kid handles disappointment and failure speaks more about her potential for success than the grade card that gets put on the fridge.

Put the grade card on the fridge. Even if it has a grade that’s not up to her potential.

Teach her about money. Let her buy the ridiculous thing that she’ll regret later so she learns now.

Give her a healthy appreciation for effort that goes unnoticed.

Character and integrity matter more than the pictures you take. But if you do take the pictures, get in a few of them. Even if you haven’t worn makeup in weeks or your thighs are dimpled.

Embrace all the successes. Accept all the lessons.

Set high expectations. Prepare for her to fall short. Expect anyway.

When she messes up, remind her how much you love her. Let her know that she is so much more than the sum of her mistakes. Make sure she doesn’t let those mistakes define her. And then take away her (fill in the blank with whatever will hurt the most).

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Encourage her to look for the good in her peers, and if she can’t find it, guide her in ways to try to bring out that good.

Help her remember that sometimes that good looks like tattered clothes, aggressive defiance, and too-small shoes.

Find good adult role models for her. Encourage them. Lean on them. You’ll want people in your circle that she’ll listen to when she can’t (or refuses to) hear you.

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While you’re at it, get yourself a support system. If it happens to include long lunches and/or shopping, so be it.

Teach her that she doesn’t have to be friends with everybody but she does need to be respectful.

Let her know that sometimes it is more important to be kind than right.

Those friends she makes? Sometimes they’re going to hurt her feelings. Let them. Embrace the opportunity to teach resilience and perhaps kindness when it’s least warranted but most needed.

Don’t give her everything on her Christmas list.

But, once in a while, buy the ridiculously impractical and overpriced boutique dress.

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Always find out the whole story. Three sides to all of them: his side, her side and what really happened. Get the facts before you react.

Teach her to cook. Give her the knife. Let her stir the pasta.

Tell her she’s amazing to keep her confident. Do it in moderation to keep her humble.

Listen when she’s ready – really ready – to be done with that (fill in the blank with whatever activity you’ve encouraged in order to make her more well-rounded).

Let her be bored.

Love the moments that are lovable. Not all of them are. Accept those. Those who say they miss all of it have blocked out the ear-piercing tantrums over pants, I’m certain. But the good stuff? Celebrate it with awkward mom dancing and too much cake.

Blow curfew once in a while. With video games. Or movies. Or both.

That teacher that makes you cringe will be her most valuable provider of lessons beyond the textbooks.

Help the teachers however you can. If you can’t help, send stuff. If you can’t send stuff, write a note. It’s free, spirit-lifting and takes almost no effort at all.

Let her fall.

Celebrate with ice cream. Lots of ice cream. Have it for dinner a few times.

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Hug her lots. She won’t love that so much when your tear-stained, ugly-cry self wants one in the dorm room doorway.

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And to my kindergartener-turned-college-student-overnight: Be the friend. Thank the teacher. Hug the mom. They all helped get you to that dorm room, where you are excited for a new adventure. And now it’s your turn to help mom walk through that door on her first day of an adventure that leaves behind a piece of her heart. Be the sweet kindergartener, if only for that moment.

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