Jonathan, my middle child, graduated from high school this month. Like millions of moms this graduation season, I wiped the tears from my eyes while scratching my head, wondering where the time had gone. He’s 6’3,” 190 pounds but it seems like yesterday he was climbing into my bed to snuggle because he was afraid of a thunderstorm.

In my mind, he should still be dressing up as Darth Vader for Halloween or hunting Easter eggs in the backyard. But those days are long gone. Instead of a bright-eyed inquisitive boy looking up at me, he is now a handsome, independent, caring young man, looking down at me. He is everything and more I could have ever wished for in a son, wrapped up in one amazing package. But, I look back with some sadness on the years I spent trying to mold him into my idea of success instead of accepting the amazing person that he is.

When Jonathan was a child, his imagination was off the charts. Even though he didn’t read until third grade, he was inquisitive, insightful and an impressive, competent communicator. I always figured school would be a whiz for him. But it wasn’t. At least not in the way I thought it should be. Not because he wasn’t smart or intuitive or creative, but because of my own rigid view of how I thought things ought to be.

From the very beginning, he loved being read to. When he was able, he became an avid reader himself, devouring several books a week. When he wasn’t reading, he planned detailed imaginary worlds accompanied by intriguing story lines. One day, he picked up a computer and declared that he wanted to be a writer, which was fine by me as long as he excelled in the areas that I thought were important.

I know that grades and ACT scores aren’t indicators of success. Yet, I was blinded by them. His grades were good enough, but I continued to pressure him to work to potential in subjects that I thought were important for success.

He’s smart, funny, and talented and can change the atmosphere of a room simply by entering it. People clamor to be around him.  But he kept his social engagements to a minimum. He’d rather spend time at home with the family or with a book.

As his senior year approached, I was frantic. I worked overtime to smash him into the mold I had imagined for him.

But, somehow when I wasn’t looking, he developed into a kind young man of character and great focus, and I missed it. Sure, I caught glimpses along the way, but I could have enjoyed so much more if I weren’t blinded by my idea of who he should be.

Shortly before he graduated, he wrote me letter, of sorts, condensing his education into what he said I’d taught him. It’s not  full of mathematic formulas, chemical equations, or complex literary analyses. It’s full of the things that make him who he is, the reasons why I love him. He entitled it simply 50 Things You’ve Taught Me.

50 Things You’ve Taught Me

  1. How to love.
  2. How to hug.
  3. How to say thank you.
  4. How to say please.
  5. How to spell tongue by saying “ton-gyou” in my head.
  6. How to ride my bike.
  7. How to treat girls.
  8. How to say “I love you” in sign language.
  9. How to talk.
  10. How to take a punch.
  11. SARCASM.
  12. How to eat at the table.
  13. Proper hygiene.
  14. How to wash clothes.
  15. How to make eggs.
  16. How to spell Wednesday by saying “Wed-nes-day” in my head.
  17. HOW TO READ.
  18. How to respect authority.
  19. How to challenge authority when need be.
  20. HOW TO DANCE (Jan-Brady style).
  21. How to spell.
  22. How to push myself.
  23. How to prioritize tasks.
  24. How to protect myself from being kidnapped.
  25. How to act in public situations.
  26. How to greet people.
  27. How to say goodbye.
  28. How to think critically.
  29. Why it is important to think critically.
  30. How to take notes.
  31. How to write a 5-paragraph essay.
  32. How to take tests.
  33. Why I should be proud to be an American.
  34. How to tie my shoes.
  35. How to act when I find myself in an uncomfortable situation.
  36. How to clean my room.
  37. How to wash dishes.
  38. To say I’m sorry.
  39. How to forgive someone.
  40. How to not go with the crowd.
  41. How to have a relationship with Christ.
  42. Why it is important to have a competitive spirit.
  43. How to learn from my failure.
  44. How to be generous.
  45. How to be patient.
  46. How to have a degree of self-control.
  47. How to never let people walk over me.
  48. How to write.
  49. How to be the best person I can be and not accept second best.
  50. Why I am the luckiest guy on the planet because I have the privilege to call you my mother.

Neither years of school nor my badgering shaped him into the young man I wanted him to be, but he has become the young man he was destined to be. He has the necessary tools for success, in spite of me.

This post first appeared on Real Moms Don’t Judge, We Just Suggest.  Reprinted with permission.

Sheila Quails is passionate about helping women in all stages of life to find the funny in life’s awkward moments. She shares her humiliating and humbling fails in an attempt to keep you laughing as you navigate the ups and downs of motherhood, marriage and more. Pre-kids, she dreamed of a high-powered career conducting 60-Minutes-type interviews and exposing truth. As a wife and mom, she still gets to conduct interviews and expose truth. She just doesn’t get a dime for it. Wife to one, mom to five, Sheila’s learning to look at life from a less serious perspective. In addition to her blog Real Moms Don’t Judge, We Just Suggest, you can find her on Sammiches & Psych Meds and Suburban Misfit Mom.  She’s also on Facebook and Twitter.

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