I hope this letter finds you well after your first night in the dorm. Thanks to your text, I know you are still alive and have survived the first day on your own.
I will admit I had some reservations leaving you there, even more after returning home from moving you in and finding your Chinese food container from the night before sitting on the table where you left it. Anyone who has lived with you can attest to the fact you always leave a trace wherever you go. I will tackle your room in a few days with gloves and a hazmat suit.
My first piece of advice to you: Pick up after yourself, and always remember to flush. Your sisters wanted me to add that last part.
Eighteen years always seemed like a very long time, until the day you were placed in my arms. Then, 18 years flew by quicker than I would have thought. I’ve learned that the more you try to hold on and slow time, the faster it seems to go. Eighteen years should have been more than enough time to teach you everything you needed to know. Somewhere down the line, though, the roles blurred a little. These days, I am not sure who is the teacher and who is the student. Eighteen years was certainly enough time for me to learn how to let go. I’ll admit it is a bit hard, but the mama bird has to nudge her baby out of the nest someday. Otherwise, the baby bird will never learn how to fly. I have no doubt that not only will you fly, you will also soar.
You are the one who made me a mother. Not the mother I am today, because I am much better now than I was then. Unfortunately, as the firstborn, you were the guinea pig. I learned through my failures with you, and looking back, I am sure there were many. Seven kids later, I can say that I think I finally know what I am doing. It is my hope that I didn’t screw you up too much.
I always knew you would be fine when you went out on your own. Of all your siblings, you were different—stubborn as hell, with quite a personality to boot. At 3, you hummed the clean-up song as you carefully moved the same toy from the top shelf to the middle shelf and back again at preschool. Your teachers were on to you, but they were equally amazed at your “dogging it” abilities. Your classmates were none the wiser as they picked up the slack. I was slightly mortified and proud at the same time. That is, until you started pulling the same crap at home.
Now that you are on your own, always do your share—at home, at school and at work. Sometimes, you will find that you need to go above and beyond what is expected of you. Suck it up, get your hands dirty and do it with a smile. Your efforts will be appreciated.
You were always the big fish among the preschool set. Loud and opinionated, you tried to run the show, both at home and at school. You didn’t think twice about correcting your teachers. One day, your kindergarten teacher pulled me aside and said, “This one is going to be the mayor.” I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be flattered or worried.
For a 5-year-old, you had balls. Brass ones. You still do. Except now, your professor won’t think it is so cute when you act like you know more than him. Even worse, don’t piss off your roommate. She will have the power to make your life hell.
Your confidence naturally draws people to you. Just be careful that you are not too full of yourself. You are pretty talented, but everyone has gifts to share. Some people shine on the inside. Take the time to notice.
The “Freshman 15” will creep up on you if you let it. You need to get up each day and be active. It is so easy to lead a sedentary lifestyle, but you need to remember that there is so much more to life beyond Instagram and Snapchat. Your father and I know that sports were never your thing. We stood on the sidelines and watched as you bent down to untie your shoelaces smack dab in the center of the soccer field. As you fiddled with your cleats, the ball went sailing over your head. Once you learned that trick, we never saw you run after the ball again. No one could make you do anything you didn’t want to do. We learned that lesson on more than one occasion. There is a big beautiful campus outside of your dorm room. Explore it.
Peer pressure has never been a concern with you. In fifth grade, the DARE program turned all adults into alcoholics in your eyes. I will never forget the way you glared at your poor father while he drank one glass of wine with Christmas dinner. This reassured me that it would be a long time before alcohol passed between your lips. I hope you always remember everything Officer Bellino taught you, but at the same time, remember to have fun. College only lasts four years (we hope). This is your chance to go out and dance on tables, and maybe, have a few drinks (once you are 21, of course).
You have never been afraid to be yourself, whether that meant wearing paper clips to honor those lost through the Holocaust, getting purple streaks in your hair for the fun of it or speaking your mind even when people were trying to push you down. Never, ever let anyone take that fire from you.
Study, study, study! Get your work done on time, keep the lines of communication open with your professors and always strive to do your best. Just like you have seen in the past, you will not always see eye to eye with your teacher, but above all, they deserve your respect.
Smile! Learn to laugh at yourself. Enjoy every moment of the next four years.
You have so much potential. I have no doubt that you are going to do amazing things.
A version of this essay first appeared on Scary Mommy.