By Jason Wright
This week my oldest child Oakli graduates from high school. Where did the time go?
Last year she was learning to walk; now she's walking across the stage.
Last week she was in the third grade; now she's third in her class.
Yesterday she answered everything we said with one word: "Why?" Now she's heading to the "Y" - as in BYU [Brigham Young University) in Provo, Utah.
As you might guess, I've thought a lot about this transition and I'm not sure which one of us is less prepared for it all. (Oh, who am I kidding? It's the guy on the byline.)
With summer here for my daughter and several million other graduating seniors across the country, I've been considering the must-do items before we pack her for Provo. Perhaps these suggestions might work for your grad, too.
First, every child leaving the nest this fall should spend as much time as possible with siblings. Take them to lunch. Read them books. Push them on the swings. Grads, your relationship with them is about to change -- forever. Savor summer afternoons with them while you can. If you don't have siblings, get permission and borrow the neighbors. They won't mind.
Second, if you don't already have a few go-to meals to cook in a pinch, find them. Even if you'll be living in a dorm and eating in the cafeteria, spend time with mom or dad in the kitchen learning how to make a few things that remind you of home. Take long breaths at the oven. Wear your mom's ugly apron. Stick your finger in the bowl. Learn the recipes and discover that the experience really isn't about cooking.
Third, make a list of people who've impacted your life for good and write them a letter. No emails, texts or Facebook messages will do. Splurge for stationary or "borrow" from your mom's stash, sit at your dining room table and write them by hand. Knock out a few every week and you'll be done in no time. Let them know what you've learned and how they've been a blessing in your life. Tell them you love them and recognize their role in your long arc to heaven will never be forgotten. If there isn't a minimum of 10 people on your list, try harder.
Fourth, learn to really listen to your heavenly father. If you're like most teenagers, you've done a lot of talking to God through the years. "Bless the food. Help us to drive home safely. Help me get an A on this Geometry test. Please make my parents less crazy." You'll still do plenty of asking, but use this time to really listen to your father in heaven's plan for you. With diligence, sincerity and by investing real time on your knees, you'll discover that prayer isn't a monologue. It's a conversation.
Finally, when your mom and dad look you in the eyes, put their hands on your shoulders and take advantage of yet another teaching opportunity, just listen. Because, hypothetically, when your dad was young, he might have rolled his eyes at those moments. When his own father offered a loving course correction, too often that petulant kid may have thought he already had life all figured out. But now, as an adult with kids of his own, he'd give anything to go back in time and have his dad, smelling of grass clippings and hard work, wrap his big arms around that boy's scrawny frame and turn the most mundane moment into a life lesson.
Don't leave home with a list of what ifs. Remember that regrets are the permanent tattoos of emotions, and you know how parents feel about tattoos.
There is no guarantee these five suggestions will reduce the torrent of tears for anyone when the rental car pulls away from the crowded dorm parking lot. But if you give them a try, you just might have the best summer of your life.
And even if you don't, your family sure will.
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters" and "The 13th Day of Christmas." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or jasonfwright.com.