Monday, March 7, 2011

Your kid can change the world

We've begun our foray into the college world. My oldest is a teenager with ADD and an aversion to academics. Yet, she wants to go to college and study. She used to want to be a Broadway actress. Now she wants to study special education.

I remember her first day of "real" school, the first day of preschool where she came to the classroom and the teacher said hello and told her where to hang her backpack and tuck away her lunch box. It felt strange. My baby was only four years old; clearly she wasn't ready for a classroom yet. When I asked how my daughter had done on the entrance exam, the teacher who had conducted the exam skirted the question, saying something about every student developing at different paces. I went to work and cried, because my baby was starting school, and because I didn't know what her future held.

By the time she was in second grade, it was clearly event that she was not going to be the class valedictorian. I had run out of circumstantial explanations for her classroom performance. The teachers called for more than a parent-teacher conference. I tried to be rational and mature.

I came home from that first assessment meeting and cried. I couldn't get my thoughts straight. I just kept trying to come up with a way to understand it all. She seemed perfectly nice and sweet. Why was it so hard for her to just follow her teacher's directions? Pay attention for one minute during ballet class? Sit and read a book with me without being frustrated after 15 seconds? Notice that the ball was coming for her and kick it during a soccer game, instead of letting it sail past while her teammates yelled at her?

One morning before school, when she was in third grade, we were both particularly on edge. She stated flatly that she didn't want to go to school anymore. She was crying. And I was crying. And the school bus was coming. And I didn't have the luxury of missing work that day or driving her to school that day. I turned her towards me and said (roughly):
"Grace, there are two kinds of people in this world. There are people who use up the world and all it has, leaving it to waste. And then there are people who decide to give what they have and change the world and make it a better place. You have something to give to the world, but if you don't go to school and try, you'll never be able to make the world a better place. So go to school now!"
And then I pushed her out the front door, into the snow-covered day, running for the bus. She was still upset. So was I. I really hoped the words I had just spoken held some validity.

There has been a lot of tumultuous water under the bridge between that snowy and tearful morning and now. A couple weeks ago, we went to Michigan State for the day. It was our first official trip to a college. I wasn't sure what to expect. I told Grace to dress a little better than average and behave as if it were a job interview. We arrived in time to grab bad Mexican in the Union for lunch and then trudged up two floors to find about fifty families waiting quietly for a welcome presentation by an admissions counselor.

She started with this video:

And as it played, I felt myself start to cry. I held it back because I was pretty sure Grace would die of embarrassment if her mother started bawling in front of all these people. By this point in her life, I've figured out how to hold back my tears in until I'm in private.

It's the idea that my kid could change the world. She's not a kid anymore; she's going to go off into the world and make her own way. Make her own decisions. Influence her environment the way she wants to.

Hopefully the words I gave to her half her life ago were not just wishful thinking. Maybe, just maybe, it's possible that one person can change the world for the better. That if one girl makes up her mind to do good, she will do good.

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