Odds & Ends: A Few Random Lessons Before My Son Leaves for College


There’s a strange paradox of time when you have children. On one hand, it feels like they were born yesterday, but on the other hand, you feel like you’ve been taking care of them FOREVER. I know that most of you lovely SMB readers have younger children, so this may come as a shock to you, but those sweet little tots of yours turn into TEENAGERS.  They go away to college.  They get a crappy apartment with slacker roommates. They have to learn to live ON THEIR OWN.

Zoe, age 5
Zoe, age 5

Truly, it seemed like Zoe leaving the nest was a far-off future event over which I had plenty of time to wring my hands.  The reality that he has a mere two years left under my roof hit my this week.  Hard.

Zoe’s guidance counselor called to cheerily inform me that my son had three large academic scholarship offers on the table. Huh?  College scholarships? Already? But he’s just a little kid! Oh, wait. When I wasn’t looking, my first-born grew up. This reality check spun my brain in a whole different direction:  How on Earth will my baby boy live on his own??! 

Zoe and I sat down and talked–I wanted to know what HE was concerned about learning before he leaves home. He knows the basics; how to do laundry, how to clean a bathroom, how to pluck his eyebrows…, but what else did my boy want to know? Here’s what he came up with:

1) Learn to cook actual meals.  Zoe is perfectly capable of following the directions on the back of a pizza box, making a cheese quesadilla, and boiling water to make the staple food of most college kids: Ramen noodles.  He wants to learn to COOK, and I am so happy to teach him.  I have asked him to make a list of a few things he’d like to master–the plan is to work on the same dishes several times and then move on to new things. Zoe’s first-round picks are Beef Stroganoff, Chicken Pot Pie and Lemon Squares.  I have two years.  He’ll be a regular Wolfgang Puck by the time I’m done with him!

2) Learn how to save money.  We had already done some work with this one, but now it’s game time.  Zoe didn’t want to start a checking account of his own yet because he wanted to be able to see his money.  Fair enough.  Visuals can be a great motivator. We instituted a plan in which Zoe earns $50 a week by helping with the younger children. He must put $10 of that money into “savings” (read: a glass jar in a kitchen cabinet).  He is allowed to spend the money in savings, but not without penalty.  Each week, we add $2 for every $10 in his savings jar.  He has the opportunity to decide what’s more important; a stack of new comic books or a jar full of money.

Zoe, one month before turning 16
Zoe, one month before turning 16

3) Learn how to press a shirt, tie a tie and pack a suitcase.  Okay, these three were not Zoe’s idea.  Our neighbor, David, an elegant world traveler who looks like a poster boy for Brooks Brothers, suggested this list.  He also said that he would be happy to teach Zoe himself, on which I am taking him up, because I am the absolute LAST person in the world that should be teaching anyone how to iron a shirt.  (If I want to iron something, I just throw it in the dryer. Not kidding.)  Zoe knows how to tie a tie in theory, but not how to do it beautifully. David brags that he can pack a suitcase in such a way that when arrives in Paris, he can unpack a suit and put it right on and it looks perfectly pressed.  Um, I think I need to sit in on this lesson, too! (See aforementioned loathing of ironing.)

4) Learn how to file taxes and apply for loans. With no provocation from me, these two things were important to Zoe.  Considering that when I was on the verge of 16, I would NEVER have even thought about loans, much less taxes, I was duly impressed.  Specifically, Zoe told me that he wanted to know what sort of things he needed to keep track of during the year so that he could file taxes properly. These are the sorts of things that sometimes get away from us as parents–we’re so busy keeping tabs on their GPAs that we forget practical, albeit mundane, life lessons.

5) Learn how to sew on a button. Handsome Husband and I were recently in a hotel room when one of his shirt buttons fell off.  I nabbed a mending kit from the front desk and handed it to him.

Handsome Husband:  (handing the kit back to me) “I don’t know how to do this.”

Me: “Honey, what did you do when a button fell of of your shirt?  I mean, this has happened to you before. Right?!”

Handsome Husband: “What do you think I did? I dropped the shirt off with my tailor.  Duh.”

Me: “For a BUTTON??!”

My son will learn how to sew on a button. End of story.


Do you have a child transitioning  into Pre-school? Kindergarten? Middle School?

Have a “meeting” with your kiddos and ask what they’d like to learn from you beforehand–you may be surprised at what’s on their minds!






  1. This was a hilarious but really practical post! My oldest son just graduated in May and i want to assure you that his cooking skills carried him a long way in college when he rented a house/apartments with roommates. I think he also might have impressed a few girls along the way, too!

    My husband used to follow his mom around when he was little – before he discovered girls – and learned how to cook, clean and sew/mend a bit. Most definitely a keeper! He might have learned some of that in the US Navy, too!

  2. This list is fantastic. Neither of my parents went to college, so I don’t think it occurred to them to teach us certain things before we left. Clearly, both my brother and I survived. However, things like money management would have come in handy. I think it’s great the way you approached it as well – making it his idea and not you barking at him to learn things.

    On the lighter side, the cooking and laundry stuff will come in handy. My 27 year old, single brother asked me for a list of recipes that took no more than 20 minutes to prepare because he is tired of frozen pizza and pasta with marinara sauce on it. I think he manages his laundry, but probably not “correctly”.


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