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Apodaca: Your kids can figure things out on their own

February 01, 2014|By Patrice Apodaca

When my younger son returned to college after his winter break, he ran smack into a Midwestern snowstorm. His connecting flight in Chicago was cancelled and his checked bag was nowhere to be found.

As he was dealing with these inconveniences, I was on a tennis court in warm, sunny Newport Beach, blissfully ignorant of his circumstances. By the time I saw his text messages and called him, he had already arranged to take a bus to his college town. Several hours later, he was dropped off across from his dorm — tired, cold and a little grumpy, but otherwise fine. His missing bag arrived the next day.

As our children progress through their school years, we parents place a high priority on the quality of education they receive. But so much of what they learn — perhaps the most important part — doesn't necessarily happen inside a classroom. It's the accumulation of experiences, decision making and problem solving that constitute the School of Life, where "Figuring Stuff Out 101" is required coursework.

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This education begins at birth, and is marked thereafter by each accomplishment large and small: potty-training success, letting go of a parent's hand on the first day of school, the first sleep-over, first formal dance and so on.

I'll never forget a particular time not long after my older son first received his driver's license when he went out to buy supplies for a school project at a store in Costa Mesa. More than an hour later he called after pulling his car to the side of the road.

"I took a wrong turn," he said. "I think I'm in L.A."

He wasn't in Los Angeles, but he was a long way from Costa Mesa. Eventually, though, with little help from my end, he kept his cool, got his bearings and found his way.

This long transition to adulthood and full-fledged independence hits warp speed when we send our kids off to college, at which point many parents wonder how their sons and daughters will ever survive on their own. Will they get out of bed and make it to class on time? Will they eat right? Will they lose their keys? (Answers: Not always, no, and probably more than once.)

But somehow, the great majority of these not-quite-adults seem to get by, maybe not always in the fashion that Mom and Dad would prefer, but they do manage. And every time they face a new situation or challenge and figure it out, they grow just a little, or even a lot.

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