Yesterday, my 5-year-old came down the stairs naked. Explaining his missing clothes, he said, "Mommy, I wanted to get naked." I had no problem with that. Until I noticed he was still wearing his socks. White athletic socks, pulled up to mid-shin. It was chilly, but style cannot be sacrificed for comfort. I called him to the bottom of the stairs and told him he can get as naked as he wants, as often as he wants, but the socks always come off first. He'll thank me for this later.
It appears I have been remiss in teaching my son some important life lessons. It's never too early to learn to take your socks off before your pants, or to put the toilet seat up before you pee (or if you insist on leaving it down, that you at least try to aim for the center of the bowl), or to put on underwear, which matters for a host of reasons, not the least of which is that Little Dude's camp counselors think I'm a nature-loving hippy mom who lets her kid go commando. In reality, my son hides his underwear in the side pocket of his backpack. I cannot explain this, nor have I tried. My solution is to send him to a different camp next year where no one knows my name.
But camp is nearly over and the school year is almost here. It's a big year at our house. Little Dude is starting Kindergarten and I will not lie, a tiny part of me is freaking out. He, of course, is not freaking out. He is just excited to use his new red backpack and ride the bus. I'm going to have to talk to him about his failure to appreciate the magnitude of life events. He had the same blasé attitude about rolling over and learning to talk.
I, however, know what this means, even if he doesn't. To prepare him for the next chapter of his life, I think there are some things my littlest guy ought to know. If I could get him to sit still long enough to listen, this is what I'd tell him.
1. Be yourself.
A few weeks ago, you said some pretty mean things to me. I asked you why, and you said "Because Mommy, if you say mean things, you'll be popular and more people will like you." Full stop. You may have learned this at summer camp, which I now refer to as "the place innocence goes to die," but wherever you picked up this bit of wisdom, let me straighten you out. No, my love, people will not like you more if you're mean. They just won't. And if they do, they aren't the people you want in your life. They are the people who value the cheap laugh over kindness and respect and they will suck all the good out of you in their quest to feel superior. Don't seek their approval. Be exactly who you are -- the funny, sweet, kind, generous boy you've always been.
2. Do the scary stuff.
I know you're excited to ride the bus. Today you're focusing on how the bus will sound, and how cool it will be and which friends you'll sit with. I also expect that the first day of school your stomach is going to get jittery as we walk to the corner and you'll be nervous and a little scared. You'll probably want four extra hugs and kisses and you might even cry a little. (Or maybe that will be me. It's a toss up.) That's how it is with exciting things -- they can be frightening because they're new. Do them anyway. Hang from the monkey bars, introduce yourself to a new friend, try to answer a question if you're not sure of the answer and play the silly games. Scary is good. It's just scary.
3. Pee in the center of the potty.
Please. Just, please.
This goes for butts and noses.
5. Wipe again.
You missed a spot.
6. Use your words.
There are lots of them. I'd prefer you use the nice ones, but I understand that sometimes you'll want to use the angry, sad, hurt, disappointed, frustrated and mean ones. Use the mean ones sparingly because they're hard to take back. And those other words you learned at camp -- you know, "Shut your face, f*&k up" -- those are indeed the baddest words in the world. Please don't use those. Among other reasons, I don't want to get called to the principal's office, either.
7. Be patient.
You like to quit things if you don't get them right the first time. I know how that feels, but you will miss out on so much if you don't keep at it. Take your time. Try again.
8. Trust yourself.
You're like me -- you like other people's approval. You hang back and ask for a million instructions and check over your shoulder to make sure you're doing a task correctly. You don't like to be embarrassed. It's OK to screw up and it's OK not to know the answer and it's fine to ask for help. But try to figure things out on your own first. You'll be so proud of yourself when you succeed. I've watched you do it a thousand times. Trust me on this one.
9. Be kinder.
You don't know much about the Internet yet, aside from your obsession with Wild Kratts on pbskids.org, but this has been a big deal lately. As it should be. Every day,you'll have a choice to be kind. You can be nice to another kid, or tease him. You can share a toy or keep it to yourself. You can include someone in a game or exclude her. You can accept that someone is different or make him feel bad about it. I'll be proud of your good grades and your trophies and your artwork, but my heart will burst out of my chest and race to the sun if you are kind.
10. Don't start a fight, but...
People are going to try to push you around in school. They just will. Not everyone and not all the time, but it will happen. Someone will say mean things or push you on the playground or make you feel bad about something. Try to talk to them first. Work it out on your own if you can. If you can't, tell a teacher or grown-up. Tell me or Daddy. We'll try to help. Walk away if possible. But if none of that works, Daddy and I agree it's OK to protect yourself. You don't have to be a victim or let anyone hurt you.
11. Do not trade your homemade cookies for Twinkies. Ever.
And eat your carrots. Do not throw them away and pretend you ate them. I will know.
12. Teacher = Mommy (or Daddy) on steroids.
See that person in front of the room? The one with the nice smile and cheery voice? Do not be fooled. He or she is in charge. Do not pull the crap you pull at home. No procrastinating, pleading or trickery. This person is a seasoned professional who will take you down without blinking. Your teacher also has our cell phones on speed dial. Make no mistake -- this is not preschool.
13. Tomorrow is a do-over.
If today doesn't work out like you planned, wait for tomorrow. If you didn't get called on during circle time, or your friend played with someone else at recess, or you hated the lunch I packed you, or you tore your jeans on the fence, or you just woke up grumpy and nothing goes right, it's OK. Tomorrow is a clean slate. There's almost nothing that won't look better in the morning -- especially when you're 5.
14. Have fun.
You're only 5. You will eventually learn to read and write sentences and say the pledge and do complicated math problems. I will not let you go to college without having mastered basic grammar and world geography. Until then, be joyful and silly and spontaneous. Make jokes, spill things, get dirty, fall down, play hide-and-seek, roll down the hill, draw pictures, create monsters with clay and pretend to be everything and anything you can possibly imagine. Have fun. I'll be waiting for you at the bus stop to hear all about it.
15. Most importantly, learn your own lessons.
The fourteen items above are what I'd tell Little Dude if I could. But he's 5 and probably wouldn't understand most of it or sit still long enough for me to get through half the list. So, I'll keep my mouth shut. Instead, I bought him a bright red backpack and sturdy new shoes and ninja pencils for his homework. Like most parents, I'll bite my tongue and try not to cry and give him a tighter-than-normal squeeze when I put him on the bus in a few weeks. Because the one lesson I can't teach him is that, like most things, he'll have to figure out nearly all of this on his own.