JoAnne Cannon Writes About her University of Delaware Ph.D. Student

Giving My Son the Boot: An intelligent, well-educated young man is not necessarily a responsible young man.

I wish there was a practical manual on parenting young adults. I’m aware of all the paraphernalia in bookstores and heard the mentoring words of Dr. Phil. As much as I have read and watched and learned and modeled … sometimes I still come up short.

Case in point: my 22-year-old son. Let me preface by singing his praises as only a mother can. He is a dedicated Ph.D. student at the University of Delaware studying chemical biology with a tissue-engineering interface. He has already been published in his field and is truly a remarkable young man. That’s the good news.

Here comes the part where he is somewhat challenged. He is irresponsible when it comes to opening his mail, cleaning his apartment, paying his electric bill and parking tickets in a timely manner. He feels these are menial incidentals and he doesn’t have the time or inclination to adhere to these mundane tasks. He is doing science and that takes precedence over everything else. Although I told him I agree with his premise, these tasks must be completed or they will bite him in his proverbial _ _ _. 

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As usual, mother is right. We received a phone call informing us that he wouldn’t be joining us for a planned family dinner. Not being the type of mother who lets things go, I questioned why. Being unable to squirm out of a viable explanation, it seems the Newark Police Department placed a boot on his car for an unpaid parking ticket. He just didn’t get around to paying it and now he must appear in court to pay a $200 fine in order to have the boot removed. I didn’t have to say I told you so because I know he heard those words without my ever having to utter them.

We regularly visit my son and his roommate, who is another shining graduate student with similar inadequacies when it comes to paying bills and housecleaning. Upon entering I notice a slew of unopened mail. Admittedly most of it was junk mail that should have found its way into the garbage can standing only a couple of feet away. Sadly it sat there for what looked like a month. Against his wishes we separated the junk from the gas and electric bill. It seems the city of Newark Electric Company was about to turn off the utilities if not promptly paid. See, this is important I pointed out, somewhat smugly. My son and I harmoniously sigh but for very different reasons.

The kitchen has crusted plates in the sink and the garbage is overflowing. The living room has empty bottles of water and beer adorning their end tables and floor.  The bathroom is, shall we say unclean, for lack of a polite description. He doesn’t allow me to clean (much) and promises they will find time later to tidy up everything.

We take them out for a hearty meal because I want to make sure he’s eating well. 

We talk, we laugh and remind him of the importance of responsibility in the most loving of ways. It is just so good to see him and we hope these little flaws will hopefully be outgrown when maturity rears its head. He promises to do better and is even thinking of getting a pet to prove he can be relied on.

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The next day he informed us that they bought a fish and named him Rex. The parents were very happy and bursting with pride. Unfortunately, three days later Rex passed. Rex now sleeps with the other fishes.

(I wish I could say that no animals died during this maturity experiment, but I can’t.)

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