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Happy Birthday!

Our oldest child turns 20 today. I’m tempted to get all reflective and tell you what this means to me. But you know what? It’s not about me so much anymore. She’s a strong, smart young woman. It’s gratifying to think I may have had a role in her growth but she’s been opening her own doors for a while now.

Have a Happy Birthday kid! You deserve it!

(Don’t mind the old man getting a little weepy over here)

Me and Beth

Beth Grows Up

The site lost something when the kids got older. When kids get into trouble as an infant, it’s much more amusing than when they’re a teen. Plus, somewhere in between they learn how to read, become aware of the world around them, and don’t find it amusing when they lose control of their own narrative.

I’m making an exception with this post because it’s really about me – and that’s not my ego talking. I’ve been ego impaired since a tragic incident early in my childhood.

Something hit me the other day.

F—! It hit me again! Agh! Damn it! Stop that!

Beth is graduating from High School this year.

I’ve know this for a long time… like some people know they’ll have kids one day. After your first is born (and sometime between the grand entrance and your first all-nighter on the first night home) it hits you. Your life is never going to be the same.

I can’t help but wonder if the same is true when they leave home (the first time). They’re born and BANG – you have a child. Twenty odd years of experience and conditioning, of taking care of yourself and worrying over your own life, (milage will vary) all of it is thrown out the window. Then they leave and BANG – you have a child out in the world. Eighteen years of experience and conditioning, of being responsible for the care and safety of a person in progress, much of it becomes obsolete. I wonder if you can really prepare for either one, or if they both sneak up and shatter your worldview in an instant.

It didn’t hit me when Beth started her senior year, took her SATs, or even when she got her first college acceptance letter. I knew there was no way in this lifetime any of us could pay for it – that or I was in some serious denial. It hit me when she got her second. It hit me again when she scheduled a tour of the campus, and once more when she left for it this morning with Cheryl.

Holy shit. She really is going to go.

Don’t worry about her. She’s gonna be fine. I’m the one you should worry about. One day soon she’s going to leave for college.

For better or worse, I’ll finally know what it’s like to have a child out in the world.

My loss will be your gain.

You’re welcome.

When questions get harder

Beth wanted advice on a homework assignment for a writing class she’s taking at college this semester. Her professor wants the class to come up with two topics for a possible upcoming assignment: write a persuasive essay taking a side of an issue relevant today.

I thought to myself, “yeah sure, possible. Like it’s possible I might take another breath before the end of the semester.”

So far, so good?

Here’s where the fun began. He gave a couple examples, one of which was: “climate change is a liberal myth perpetuated by a liberal media.” Beth explained she wanted to turn her professor’s example around and argue the opposite for one of her topics.

Ho-boy! Where do I begin?

First of all, I tried to stay calm – a feat made easier by a muscle relaxer taken an hour earlier to calm down some neck pain. I didn’t want to say something like, “Man, it sounds like your professor is a f…ing idiot.” She’s smart enough to come to this conclusion herself. Plus, I didn’t want to encourage an adversarial relationship with someone responsible for giving her a grade. I went that route my freshman year at UF and it didn’t turn out well.

I’m trying to cut down on my swearing. So lets just say, I had English teacher whose head was stuck pretty far up someplace that’s usually inaccessible to one’s own head.

It was one of the few times I got less than an A in a class at UF, and I started the semester a seventeen year old, know-it-all teenager. She’s a fifteen year old, know-it-all teenager, who hasn’t graduated from high school yet, and an average of four years younger than the rest of the class. I feared she might not fare as well.

My next thought was, should I give the guy some slack? Maybe he was playing the role of provocateur to get some neurons firing, rather than being an ideologue trying to push an ill-informed worldview ON MY DAUGHTER!

Finally, I tried to find a middle path. She knows how I feel on the subject, as we’ve discussed it many times. I told her I was proud of her desire to take up the cause, but this wasn’t the right place. Plus, I didn’t think it served a possible purpose of the exercise: to write a reasoned essay defending a position on an issue that might not be familiar (now), or one she might not even hold. Giving the guy the benefit of doubt, I thought it could turn out to be a good exercise in critical thought.

Plus, I thought merely taking his example and turning it around lacked creativity. There are LOTS of problems in the world worthy of a little persuasion.

I’ll tell you one thing. It makes me yearn for her early years when the questions were easy, like explaining redshift.

The astronomical phenomenon, in case you were wondering.

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Dating myself

First, a little background.

HANDS OFF THOSE MICE!

I’ll keep it quick.

Beth is a smart, 15 year old kid who has been using computers at home for most of those 15 years. When she was a little over one we bought an original iMac. ‘Twas the day after Thanksgiving (in 1998) and all through the store, folks were swinging mice like weapons, crying the holiday motto: MORE! Then, like now, folks were questioning the wisdom of selling a consumer computer without a critical piece of hardware.

The current scene: Kauffman Household (v2.2) family room, earlier today. A father and his daughter are admiring a Mac Plus on the wall of fame.

Beth: What is that slot looking thing under the screen?

Me: That’s a floppy drive.

Beth: (not kidding) What is a floppy drive?

I know floppies are (mostly) gone, but somehow I wasn’t quite ready for them to be forgotten. I’m not sure why. Most of my experiences with them were bad. I’d just as soon forget them myself.

I’m afraid I was too tired to explain why those (mostly) rigid, little plastic squares were “floppies.”

When in life

I was really excited this morning. I surfed the web for images and maps of campus. I gave Beth ten answers for every question she asked. Maybe one in ten were pertinent to the question. I found a picture of a room from the dorm she’ll be staying in at UF. Countless pictures of my dorm came to mind. There was so much excitement and nostalgia floating around it’s hard to imagine a better high.

Some may think I’m an unhappy person but I hope Beth has even a fraction of my good fortune.

Cheryl and Beth backed out the driveway and quickly disappeared. Cheryl will be back tomorrow, Beth next week. But it’s not hard to imagine this morning was a glimpse of the future… a future that’s sprinting to the present, where weeks become semesters and semesters become a new life.

I hope we’ll be ready.

Beth left with a grin, maybe even as excited as me. I hope she returns with a bigger one, with memories of her own and an itch to create a lot more.

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Beth, pride, and The Gators

My daughter has been been accepted by the University of Florida.

I am bursting with pride. As Yoda might say, “A proud father I am.”

I admit it’s a touch misleading though. Beth is just finishing ninth grade. She is not graduating early and she is not enrolling with the freshman class at UF next fall. She will be dual-enrolled in college courses next year, but they won’t be at UF (130 miles away). However, she will be one of forty or so kids living on campus for a week this summer to explore scientific areas of study, meet the professors who teach them, and see the research they do when they’re not teaching.

I think the concept of the program is fantastic. I think a lot more kids should have the same opportunity, but I also understand the desire to bring in kids who really want to be there and will get the most out of the experience. I think there’s a way to balance larger enrollment with high enthusiasm, but this isn’t a post about the responsibilities of our public institutions of higher learning – or where we place those institutions on our list of state priorities.

Good thing too – my temper has been running thin lately.

Although I thought Beth’s essay was pretty good (I couldn’t resist a few suggestions to make it better), her grades are perfect, and her letters of recommendation were glowing, I always assumed she wouldn’t get in. I think she’s a capable, confident, smart, and strong young woman who can and will do many things. But Florida is large and forty is small.

Maybe it’s a relatively small thing, but I feel like we won the World Series. I feel like looking up those teachers who treated her no better than the students who bullied her and telling them, “Look at my daughter and see what she has done. Now know this: she has done it in spite of you.”

Where once there was gloom, she is a bright, shining star.

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No complaints

Woo hoo! That’s a good one! Just because I’m not going to use this post to whine doesn’t mean I’ve got no complaints.

I promise you though – I won’t go there today. Today I want to cheer myself up as much as anything.

I do this with full knowledge of the consequences: this will be a boring post. Ask the news director at your local television station. Misery, desperation and destruction sells! You show me a local news program that leads with a story about a local kid’s puppy finding his way home to Kansas, after being dog-napped in Kalamazoo, and I’ll show you a local news director who doesn’t care about being employed.

I won’t be discussing puppies or their heroism, but I will be discussing kids – mine in fact. Both seem to be blossoming this year in school, and not just academically.

Beth took a test last spring to determine which materials the school would order for her this year. She’s in ninth grade, for those of you keeping score. It’s traditionally known as the first year of high school ’round these parts. It’s the freshman year, or the year of feeling REALLY young. You may recall she attends a small private school due the social problems she had in public school, attributed to high functioning Autism (or Aspergers). The classes are small, have mixed grades, and are self paced – thus the need for personalized materials. We learned how she did on the test in August.

Beth essentially tested out of high school before she started. As a result (in part), she got involved in some extra curricular activities to keep school interesting this year. She decided she’d like to work on the yearbook. The teacher who oversees the group said she’d be assigned tasks according to her strengths. If you know Beth you know she wasn’t satisfied with such an open ended statement. So she pressed. “Oh, we’ll probably have you doing a bit of everything.” She was recently asked to attend a sports event to take photographs. She thought it was the coolest thing since the penguin experience at Sea World.

She’s been volunteering at the YMCA one day a week and attending drama club another. (Like we need more drama in our lives.) This spring she’ll be taking the entrance exams necessary to take dual enrollment courses at a local college starting next year.

Discussions at home have been filled with university degree programs and the prerequisites she’ll start taking next year. It seems like just last year she was in middle school and now we’re talking about her starting college.

They grow up fast!

Meanwhile Adam’s been coming home with tests for me to sign, and I can’t recall the last one I saw with a wrong answer. He’s been an information sponge that never seems to fully saturate.

He joined Cub Scouts this year – something I’m not completely happy about. He desperately wanted to join and I wasn’t sure how to explain discrimination based on sexual preference to my precious, sweet little boy. I know it can’t last forever, but the loss of childhood innocence is a door you can’t close – and I don’t want to open it yet – not if I can help it. He’s smart enough to know not everyone is perfect, and the world as a whole is similarly flawed. But living out in it gives us a deeper knowledge I can’t bring myself to share. However, the emphasis on community service complements his kind soul, and he’s having a great time.

Maybe the best thing is they both still want to spend time with their dad. Adam still pines for “a catch,” the American ritual of father and son throwing a baseball across the back yard. When I think about it (and sometimes I think about things far too much), I’m awestruck that such a simple thing as a baseball passed back and forth can seem so important. It’s almost as if it’s a bonding ritual written into our DNA, designed to be hard wired into the areas of the brain where love, nurturing, and long term memories reside.

I remember dismissing such things as a parent in waiting.

Were we all such fools when we were young?

Beth still seeks my opinion on a wide range of issues and accomplishments. Apparently she still thinks I know things. Were we all such fools when we were young ;-) She is a teenager, isn’t she? Doesn’t she know parents stop knowing things when their kids reach thirteen?

If Cheryl didn’t intervene with trivial matters like, “Beth, you need to get some sleep tonight,” or “Beth, the house is on fire, you really should get out,” we’d talk for hours. The only thing larger than my self-doubt is her curiosity and confidence in my words. Recently she wanted to know if she should be afraid about overpopulation and diminishing world resources. That was an especially long conversation, meandering between light topics like the environment, climate change, and population dynamics across the social-economic spectrum.

Long story short: I’m happy to report the kids are more than fine. They’re pretty great.

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A warming world

We were leaving the YMCA last night and I asked Beth how her first day of volunteering went.

“Great!” she said.

“Why did you decide to volunteer here?” I asked, thinking of yesterday’s post.

“I wanted to give something back to the community and this was the first place I thought of since we come all the time.”

My heart swelled.

Later, she asked me an interesting question. “Why is it significant the Earth doesn’t cool very much at night?”

“Well, think about it,” I said. “Why do they call CO2 a greenhouse gas?”

“I get it. The Earth has energy in the form of heat all day, not just when the sun is up. It can’t cool after the sun goes down because the heat absorbed during the day can’t escape back into space at night either.”

Although the subject of the last conversation continues to depress me, overall, it was a good day to be a parent. I’ve been a good influence after all.

Now, if there was just some way we could get adults to catch up to the accumulated wisdom of a fourteen year old.

Firsts

Today is the first day of school. Adam and Beth got out the uniforms this morning for the first time in almost three months, and started a new chapter in their lives.

For Adam, it’s first grade. These days the jump from kindergarten to first grade isn’t much different from first to second. The era of standardized testing and school “accountability” has leached most of the fun from learning, as schools standardize curriculums, and reduce every moment between bells to drill English and math into childrens’ heads with the subtlety of a jack-hammer.

It’s why Adam is in private school, although his school isn’t immune to the pressure to kickstart the academics early. Private schools aren’t “accountable” the way public schools are. Florida’s ultra-conservative state government says it’s because private schools are held to an even higher standard: “the free market.” Oh the irony! Private schools lack the woeful standards of “accountability” of public schools, allowing them to devote more time to a rounded education. They can dabble in frivolous things like music, art, and the study of foreign languages and cultures – all the things I got from my public education in Florida before the “accountability movement” started.

Heaven fucking forbid.

Beth starts high school today, though she too will remain at the same, private school she attended last year. As you may recall, our hand was forced when it became clear “accountability” didn’t apply to kids with Aspergers.

I didn’t mean to begin this post with a rant about the school system. It just kind of happened. I guess I still have unresolved issues.

What I really wanted to say is I’m really proud of my kids.

Beth has her first interview today. She’s starting ninth grade, so we were a little leery of her working in her spare time. However, it’s not about money. Beth wants to volunteer at the YMCA, watching the little kids after school and working the front desk.

How could I say no to that? I’m a little worried. Social skills are not her strong point, but if this works out it could be a great experience for her.

Here’s what warmed my heart: she came up with this on her own. While we were there working out one day, she sought out the director, spoke to him, and came home with an application – without any prompting from us. Hell, we didn’t even know she could volunteer at her age.

Lots of kids have good hearts and take initiative to do good things. What surprises me is I’ve brought up one of those kids.

No, she isn’t working to solve the problem of world hunger, but she is willingly giving her time to do something she enjoys – helping other people.

Proud doesn’t begin to explain how I feel. Pretty damn lucky comes close.

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Kids grow

Yesterday was Beth’s last day of school. It also marked Beth’s last day of middle school.

Beth slideThis little girl…
Will start high school this fall.

Christmas 2010Our resident young-adult pulled straight As for the year again, not that I’m bragging, of course. Think of it more as a statement of fact that doesn’t reflect poorly on the author or the subject.