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MS. SIMPLICITY: Life lessons from a veteran mom to the newbies

Melissa Schmalenberger, Ms Simplicity columnist

I have become that woman.

You know, the one who comes up to you at the store when you are pushing a grocery cart full of screaming kids that says "cherish this as it goes by so fast." It happened to me as a young mom, and I just shook my head at the crazy woman and walked away.

But now I am that woman. Now people are walking away from me. Don't they know that I am telling them the truth? Don't they know that I am a cautionary tale?

Where did the time go? I honestly don't know. I am a mom who raised three boys and survived. I am going to the last concerts and last dances. I am attending the last parent teacher conferences ... and doing this all with a tear in my eye.

My youngest leaves for college this fall and my oldest graduated from college this year. I'm not going to lie — I tried talking my college graduate to moving back home during his gap year. He foiled my plans and secured a great paying job in his current community.

Facing this empty nest idea is scary. Most see it as freedom. I see it as the time to figure out who I am. I lost my identity while I was raising my boys and turning the focus back on me has been an intense process.

I am also reflecting on the essential skills of life that my boys were taught. Sure I missed some, but I always focused on the endgame of them launching on their own.

Here are some of the essentials that I taught my boys.

Always have a curiosity for learning

This is probably my favorite trait in all of my kids. They are always reading or listening. They know more about current events than I do. They will randomly pick a skill and learn all they can about it. My middle son taught himself French, and when he was done, he started to learn how to program a computer. My oldest majored in chemistry because it was a major that would help him stand out on med school applications. My youngest is joining knowledge competitions for fun!

Learn how to plunge a toilet

Yes, I said that. Hand them a plunger and tell them to figure it out. Better to figure it out at home than away at their own apartment with water overflowing. They need to know how to turn that water off if necessary and clean that mess up.

Know the basics of laundry

It doesn't need to be complicated. When the basket is full, wash a load. The goal is to not see how much dirty laundry you can accumulate (insert my finger pointed at my youngest child).

If you want something, wait for it

Yes, we made our kids save up for impulse buys like video games. But they also had to save up for musical instruments. Our oldest mowed lawns to buy a new viola and is now saving for a car. He is commuting two hours a day and not complaining as he knows that a car purchase is his responsibility.

If you take it out, you put it away

The way to keep a dorm room or apartment for getting messy is having everyone on the same page of putting things away when they are done with the item. This skill should be taught at age two as it makes things so much easier later on. I have friends who have been married for 28 years and the husband has still not mastered this skill.

Shake hands with confidence and look people in the eye

A wimpy handshake is a pet peeve of mine. Don't shake my fingers — shake my hand. Practice at home until you have it perfected. When my kids were in public with me and we would meet a friend of mine, I would have them practice. I gave them the look and they shook the person's hand and said it was nice to meet them. They didn't get to avert their eyes. They didn't get to keep their hands in their pockets.

If you love something, set it free

My boy Sting said it, and it's true. My husband and I raised three incredible young men. We are beyond proud.

Yes, our daily troubleshooting as young parents is coming to an end. Yes, I no longer need to know how to get bubble gum out of hair. To be honest, I will miss those days. But I am also looking forward to the continued work on me and figuring out who I am.