Monday, October 29, 2012

The Year of Milestones

I was thinking the other day that 2013 will be a year of milestones. 2013 will see my son, the older child, graduate from college with a degree in Engineering Management. I am so proud of all that he has accomplished!

It has not been an easy road. At 4 years old, I found myself in a shouting match with him that ultimately lead to my losing most of his respect. And as for me, horrified at what had happened, I all but checked out as his dad.

He has always been very bright - From a very early age he was able to hold intelligent conversations with adults. But he also was diagnosed as Oppositional-Defiant with ADD and it was with the behaviors associated with these things that I barely was able to cope. Then he became interested in swimming and it really started to make a difference for all of us. His energies were focused, and the rigorous schedule kept us directed in a (mostly) common direction. As I have written about before, exercise really makes a difference in ones attitude - and he was no exception. I would be remiss not to mention too how his first swim coach taught him about things that I had failed to teach: Positive attitude, good self image, respect for authority, work ethic, responsibility... Things I am grateful for as he helped my boy find the right path when I had failed so miserably. So over time I eventually managed to learn how to be a better father to him,  and things moved on.

By the time he moved away to college I knew that he was mostly ready for this new page in his life and I also knew that I was going to miss him. We had become more like the father and son I thought we should be, but I had hoped for more. With him moving away I worried that the relationship we had so recently been able to build would crumble away. Happily though, and really to my surprise actually, we continued to progress in our relationship. He began to seek my advise, and I showed him the respect he deserved when he made decisions for himself.

All of that adversity and he has managed to turn out to be quite the young man!

Not to be outdone by her big brother, my daughter will also be a graduate this coming Spring! She well on her way into her senior year at high school and I am every bit as proud of the young lady's accomplishments! Perhaps it goes without saying, but she has had some rocky roads to travel too. Being the second child, and having an older brother who was very articulate at an early age, her language skills did not develop "on schedule". By the second grade she was in remedial reading and struggling with school in general. Unfortunately, because of the attention her brother demanded, she often was left to fend for herself and her development faltered. Once we discovered what was going on with her brother though, she benefited from what we learned, and was diagnosed as ADHD at a much earlier age than her brother. We switched schools to one more appropriate for both kids and soon she was devouring books like she was making up for lost time - which I guess she was!

She also embraced physical activity: dance, gymnastics and swimming at first, but settled on dance as her passion. And that passion has lead to some really neat experiences for her. She has trained and progressed to where she can dance En Pointe and has done so in public performances put on by the dance academy where she trains. The academy is associated with a professional ballet company, and as such she has auditioned for and appeared in the annual performance of The Nutcracker each year for the last 8 years. Ballet has taught her a great deal about working with others and also how to be a mentor to those younger and less experienced than herself. To be sure I am very proud of her for her accomplishments.

But she has made me most proud for what she did when she realized that life has dealt her a different hand than what she had hoped.

Her dance schedule - dancing a full 6 days a week (7 when rehearsing for the Nutcracker) should tell you something about her dedication, passion and love for dancing. Indeed her dream is to perform as a classical ballerina with a professional company. But a meeting with the director of her dance academy left her dreams shattered. While she has a shot at becoming a successful dancer, it would be extremely unlikely for her to do so as a classical ballet dancer - she's just not built right for it. Modern ballet or straight modern dance? Probably. Even her choreography shows promise. But the goal she has had for most of her life would be a big financial drain without much hope of a fruitful outcome and so is out of reach and impractical.

So earlier I mentioned the meeting with the director of the academy - It was unbelievable the way she conducted herself during the course of this frank discussion. The director was obviously more nervous than my daughter was, and when the point was made, there was no drama or tears. Just a frank discussion about alternatives and the likely outcomes of each. She took it so well I was taken aback- And proud beyond words.

So when she graduates in the spring there will be a summer job and then college instead of further dance classes and an internship or apprenticeship in dance. Even with all the hours spent in the dance studio, late nite homework sessions, and impossible scheduling conflicts, she has managed to maintain a great grade point average at a challenging school and earned excellent ACT and SAT scores this past spring. I know she is going to do well as she continues her education and that sure makes it easier to be the dad of a teenage girl.

So both of my children are showing themselves to be quite full of potential and promise despite their parents' inability to provide a consistently stable environment in which to grow up.

And that is a huge relief for this father.