Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bragging on our kids

(Warning: The following post contains mushy, sanctimonious tripe. If you don't like people bragging about their kids — and I can't blame you — let me recommend The Comics Curmudgeon, Axe Cop, or a link to Sanjay Patel, a Pixar animator whose illustrations knock me flat, to pass the time. Or brag about your kids on a blog, and direct me to it.)

One of the page treaments our son created as art director of Chico State's The Orion.
My kids hardly ever call, and by that I mean hardly ever send emails or message me on facebook (they know my cell phone is usually off or lost, so actually calling is impossible anyway), but I'm fine with that. I know they're busy, and I want them to go out and build their lives. Though I miss them, I know they have accomplishments to accomplish.

(To be fair, they call their mom often. All of them exist on a much higher technological plane. If you consider typing with your thumbs an advancement.)

I'll see them this week for Thanksgiving, which makes me realize how extra thankful I am for them. They have given my wife and me little to worry about and much to wonder at as they grow.

They've grown — as I wrote once in a poem about children yet to come — good and strong and glad.

That's good parenting, you might be inclined to say. Eh. Good modeling can't hurt, but Lord knows I could have been a better model. I think it comes down to me being extremely fortunate that they comprise my family.

They aren't becoming what I imagined when I wrote to them before they were born, and I'm fine with that too. They just prove the limits of my imagination.

Our daughter is really just beginning her college life in Oregon. Though I'm looking forward to what she eventually does with her studies — I think it's still in flux — I'm most proud of the journey she has taken to date.

A year ago she wanted to come home, regroup and rethink, after just a few months being away, and we were all for it— until we realized that might be the worst-case scenario for her. California's public universities are going through a slow motion implosion, taking our taxes with it and seeking more, and the community colleges are filling with refugees from those university systems. She might not have had anywhere to go once she got home.

We urged her instead not only to stay, but to become a resident of Oregon to reduce tuition costs and her looming loan debt. That path is full of big hurdles, namely showing that you're not in Oregon to go to school but support yourself, for a year.

Realizing she had already made good friends, planted roots in a church group for college students, and bonded with her school (Eugene is crazy in love with its university; it's so amazing to me how few students on campus DON'T wear their green-and-yellow Oregon Ducks gear), our daughter decided she would stay.

Every step since then has been a struggle, but she has plugged on. She even stayed in Oregon through the summer to get the process started early. She looked for work, and looked, and looked, and looked. She made lists and plans, she carried out those plans, and ran into a lot of walls as a result. Sure, when she called it was to complain about how hard everything was, but after each call she tried again.

Even when she found work, she struggled with it: The hours, or lack thereof, the lost personal life, the feeling of being outside the university community looking in, knowing college friends are having their college fun without her. But she continued to list and plan, and continued to work her plan.

I can't say she's fine with where she is — even this week she ran into big bumps — but she has begun to find a groove, adapting and overcoming. She takes the minimum units of classes allowed under the Oregon residency requirements, to keep herself on track, and stays busy with work and her duties within her youth group. Our baby, in other words, is growing up.

Our son will soon finish his time as art director of the university's weekly newspaper, The Orion, and will stay a while longer in school to broaden his experiences. He loves the job, which comes with a lot of pressure, because the newspaper is a longtime winner in national newspaper design contests.

He loves graphic design, which is his major; he loves especially the history of it, the work of those who went before. (Most people, hearing this and knowing me, say something like, "Duh!" But we rarely did artistic things together, and he found this love on his own, spending many, many days teaching himself Adobe Photoshop by making many miniature montages of words and pictures. He knows a lot more than I about design and technique.)

One day last year, a well-known consultant came to the school newspaper design staff and said, "Since your time is short here and your job is to design, why don't you redesign the paper?"

Our son took it to heart and spent his spring break breaking down the newspaper and rebuilding it into a new design, with new column widths, new design rules, new nameplate, almost new everything. Then he drew up the new design rules, returned to school, selected and trained his staff on the rules, then let the talented designers go to explore in this new playground he built.

Designing a publication is a mystery to me, so I'm in awe. I'm also amazed how soon in life he has managed to learn how to manage — such a tricky, nebulous art — to let creative people have their space, to trust them to excel at design on deadline. I don't have a lot to show of his work on the paper, because his work is the unseen framework on which others design.

Something about reading The Orion online last week gave me an overwhelming sense of wonder at what our children are doing and becoming, and I look forward to seeing them soon. Bring your children close, give them a call, be thankful.

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