I just moved my daughter into our new townhouse where she’ll be living. Alone. At 19.
It’s a beautiful home but I’m afraid I’ve transformed it into a scene from “A Beautiful Mind”. There are sticky notes everywhere. 21 to be exact. They’re on kitchen counters, bathroom mirrors, the front door, the garage door. Reminding her to turn off the coffee pot each morning. Reminding her to clean out the lint screen on the dryer. A checklist hangs on her bathroom mirror with her nighttime tasks – lock the doors, make sure the oven is turned off.
I never lived alone. I had a roommate after college, moved back in with the parents (ahem) and then got married. So I never had to take on adult responsibilities when I was in my early 20s, unless you count finding my way home from the bars at 4am after a night out in Georgetown and then getting myself up for work at 7am.
So how do kids today learn to live independently without trial and error? Only with my daughter, the stakes are too high. She’s in a relatively new, costly, beautifully designed home. And it’s connected to four other homes so leaving that coffee pot on all day could have tragic consequences.
Yes, I was a whirly-bird, helicoptering Mom. I still am. I guess all along I was hoping she was observing all of those things I was doing – like cleaning out the lint screen after she did her laundry, blowing out the candles left burning in her room, turning on the garbage disposal as she filled the sink with vegetable peels. But now it’s fight or flight and I’m not sure she was paying close enough attention.
There is a “living alone in our house” contract that states if she clogs the disposal or stops up the toilet or doesn’t clean up after the dog, she pays the consequences. Literally pays. That could mean one less trip to Urban Outfitters. There’s a note on the front door telling her it doesn’t shut on its own so it has to be pulled shut. There are instructions for how to walk her new rescue dog – she takes her time and has to be walked a distance to complete her business. My husband instructed her on the temperatures for the thermostat so she conserves electricity. I even had to show her how to close and open the vertical blinds because they tend to get twisted.
I’m 3000 miles away so I’m awaiting that first call of “Mom, guess what happened”, but there aren’t enough sticky notes in the world to cover everything. So I can just hope. Hope that some switch in her brain that says “You’re an adult now” clicks on and all these responsibilities and reminders fall into place.
My next big task will be teaching my son to adult. He’s in a college dorm but will soon be living on his own. I’ve always thought he was more street smart so adulting would come easier for him. But now I’m not so sure. Just last week he said, “Will you teach me how to use the coffee maker?” And a few weeks ago, he asked me how credit cards work. I’m hoping my helicopter doesn’t crash on this one!