Mother Polonius

June 16, 2017

[Photo Credit: torbakhopper via Creative Commons]

A month from now, I will be taking my oldest child to the Missionary Training Center.

Porter and I have a lot of things to do, many of which are enumerated in a handy booklet that accompanied his mission call. However, more difficult for us are some of the tasks not listed.

As his mother, I am suddenly seeing a number of parenting tasks that I have failed to accomplish, despite being nineteen years on the job.

Porter doesn’t know how to wash dishes with the minimum amount of soap and water while still getting a maximum amount of decontamination.  He doesn’t know his daily need for fiber.  He doesn’t know how to sew on a button!

My son isn’t worried about these things.  “Relax, Mom. It’s going to be OK. I know how to make chocolate chip cookies. I can barter for help with sewing.”

Nevertheless, I’m frantically narrating every daily task, trying to cram five plus decades of practical know-how into Porter’s brain.  To be honest, as a bookish, dreamy person, I probably have only about five years of practical know-how to transmit.  The time remaining before he leaves is still grossly inadequate.

If Porter plans to barter as way to meet his basic needs, what about his “soft skills”–as the organizational behaviorists label them. Or the emotional intelligence skills–as the psychologists name them. Can Porter manage his time, resolve conflicts, listen with empathy, apologize for his faults, set goals and self-monitor his progress? Why haven’t we read the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin?

Even If I could convey all my soft skills, I’m rarely the most emotionally mature person in the room.  Have I modeled good people skills?   Do we have time for a few family therapy sessions?  Gah! With only a month left, maybe we both should just read All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

There’s gotta be a scripture for this situation.

“Yea, I know that I am nothing” (Alma 26:12)  “With God All things are possible” (Matthew 19:26)

But did we have Family Home Evening every week? Family scripture study every day?  Did he memorize enough scriptures to call them to memory in a crisis? Have I born my testimony in sacrament meeting in front of him enough times? Do I model Christlike behavior on daily basis?  Um, no. Not all the time.  And I’m probably not even entirely Christlike any of the time.

Each day we get closer to MTC drop off day, I become more and more like Polonius, giving a lecture to my Laertes (Hamlet Act I, scene iii). My son isn’t going to school in Paris, but Porter is likewise launching into the world.  Polonius and I are both nervous about this time of transition.

So while Porter and I are in the department store buying his suits, I’m shouting, “Never a borrow nor a lender be!” In the halls of church I’m whispering fervently, “Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice” And at the dinner table I’m imploring, “To thine own self be true!”  Porter is rolling his eyes and calling me Polonius.

With a month left, can I shed my Polonius tendencies and send him off in a more grounded manner?

Yes, I can strive to be more practical, mature, and spiritual during this last month.   But as I stew in the realities of my own shortcomings, I should gesture away from myself towards these resources:  Porter has strengths that are uniquely his own.  Where he falls short,  he can draw on the strength of his fellow missionaries, the members, and the investigators in the Nevada Reno Mission to support him.

And my son can ask for divine help through many venues, not all of which I can enumerate for him even if I were more dedicated to that task.  It’s time for me to move behind the curtain (but with a less fatal effect than in the play) and let Porter take center stage in his own life. My adult child will reach for God in ways that are uniquely his own.



  1. Sage Gallagher

    June 16, 2017

    I loved this post. I have two adult and three minor children and this is real. It hits me in a panic when they prepare to move out. My oldest daughter is highly unprepared to survive on her own since it will require more than reading a book. I have a couple years to cram some practical knowledge into her!

  2. Marm

    June 16, 2017

    You caught the feelings of so many of us and put them into words. You did it in a fun way, I might add. Thanks.

  3. Emily

    June 16, 2017

    There was an elder in my mission who knew how to roast a chicken and bake a pie from scratch. He was like a God to the rest of us.

  4. Rozy

    June 16, 2017

    Goodness! We were blessed with four sons. When the oldest of them was about 8 and I was at my wit’s end with them the Spirit impressed on me that they were on a 19 year training program and I could be patient with them. My husband and I talked about what we would like them to know before they left home and we worked, as consistently as we could, to teach them. They HATED some of the lessons and called us mean! Oh horrors, I’m a mean mother. We made them learn to clean a house, do laundry, cook basic foods, make handyman repairs around the house, etc. We made them participate in Scouting and learn to camp and such. We attempted to teach them how to be good friends (YES! You have to share a room with your brother!) and how to meet and talk to people. After all of that only one served a mission. But they all left home on good terms and have thanked us over and over again for all we taught them. I’m not bragging–they can still be thoughtless slobs sometimes. They are human and so are their parents. But we feel like we did a pretty good job of helping them grow into competent humans. (We did pretty good with our one daughter too.)

    You know that difficult last teen year before they actually leave home? My older sister told me that that was Heavenly Father’s way of making it easier to let them go. Transitioning from child to adult is hard! But love and patience work miracles. If your children are still young, sit down and make a plan of what you want them to know and them how you’re going to accomplish it over the remaining years. It takes sacrifice of your own wants and needs, but the work parents do with their children is the most important! Keep up the good work.

  5. Anne Marie

    June 16, 2017

    This is so well-written. Funny and wise. Thank you. Before we sent our oldest son out on a mission last summer, I definitely reached a moment of surrender and total humility. I realized that he was a human raised by a human, and there were huge gaps in his readiness, but I let him go, knowing that he would never be alone. Best to you!

  6. acw

    June 17, 2017

    I hear you. My daughter returned from college and went grocery shopping with me last week, and stared at the produce misters in amazement: “what is this magical shower in the grocery store?” and I felt like I had a time-traveler with me on a daily life task and wondered where I had failed…

  7. Karen

    June 17, 2017

    Sage: Thanks for pioneering this space ahead of me. I appreciate your welcoming me into this new space with a shared experience.
    Marm: Thanks for reading and commenting. That’s very kind of you to take the time to do so.
    Emily. Hmmm. Chicken and pie.
    Rozy: That’s very admirable that you were able to parent in a tortoise style in contrast to my hare style. Readers of small children have an opportunity to choose the better part. Thanks for sharing.
    Anne Marie: Ahh. You are just months ahead of me on this path. You distilled my epiphany in a very apt manner, and you added additional insights that help me now that I’m parenting an adult. Thank you!
    ACW: Thank you for sharing that image–that’s powerful illustration of this issue. All my best to you and your time traveler.

  8. Sherilyn

    June 21, 2017

    I just dropped mine there one week ago today. Feeling all the “could haves” with you, Karen!

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