Saturday, May 14, 2011

School's Out For Summer! Now What?

I just returned from a walk across town to drop an envelope in the mail.  I took my time and looked in several shop windows.  I joked with the ladies at the bank and played with a stray dog.  I helped a woman load some plants into her car and then went by the store to get one of the Italian beef sandwiches on special today.  I walked back home, sat in my chair, and looked around the apartment for what to do next.

I have never been one who is hard to entertain, but today feels different.  I don’t know what to do.  I started school again in November and in January doubled up on the class load so I could graduate in May.  The work load has been pretty intense for the last few months, but yesterday I turned in the last assignment for my research class.

I felt a huge sense of relief to know that I had finished and immediately went to a friend’s house to hang out because I had the time to do so.  Today, when I woke up, I took a shower and sat down at my computer like I do every morning.  I checked my email and Facebook, read a little bit of news and then logged into my school account to start my work for the day.  Once the page was up, I noticed there were no tasks listed.  That’s when I remembered that I had finished the day before and there was nothing that needed done, so I was free.

I stood up smiling and contemplating my choices for the day.  I could do anything I wanted.  Today I was not tied to a book or my computer.  The possibilities were endless.  I could…WHAT!!!  Nothing came to mind.  For weeks I had been saying that I was ready to have the semester done with so I could be free for the summer, but I had never considered what exactly I would do.

I could always watch TV, but I didn’t feel like it.  Plus, that had been my escape when I took study breaks.  It was the same with my XBOX.  When I would take an hour off, I either watched television or played a video game while I ate.  I love to read.  I could read a book, but I have read 12,738 books in the last six months, I really didn’t feel like picking up another one for at least a week.

Almost everything in the apartment is already packed for the move.  I can’t pack anything else because we are still living here for two more weeks.  We have already taken most of our furniture to the new house.  The apartment is pretty empty.

It is a Thursday morning, so almost everyone is at work or school.  The few I know who are not at work are sleeping because they work midnights.  I live in an apartment complex, so there is no grass to mow or anything to fix.  I need to figure this out.  My new job in Mt. Vernon starts on May 31, but until then, my days are free.

Bunny Juggling WOULD pass the time.
When I was young, this was easy.  I would go to a friend’s house, start talking, and the hours would just fly.  We would hop in a car and the day could take us anywhere, but that is easy to do when you have no responsibilities.  I am not saying it is hard to entertain yourself as an adult.  I am someone who does not get bored easily.  I have never had trouble finding a way to use my time.  It may not have always been productive, but I enjoyed it.  So today is kind of new to me.

Maybe I should learn a new language or get to know my neighbors.  I could join a gym or try to catch that skunk that has been hanging around here.  I have been wanting to learn guitar.  I could cook an elaborate meal for when Kirsten gets home.  I may go jogging or just throw acorns at the squirrels in the park.

I still do not know what the rest of the day (or couple of weeks) holds for me, but I have succeeded in burning another hour writing this blog.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Daddy's Little Girl

Tonight marks the another of those life moments that must come, but I am just not sure how I feel about it.  I always knew it would arrive.  I have joked about how I would handle it and the day is finally here.  My daughter just left for the Prom.

Alex & Kirsten sitting too close together even back then
Kirsten is a freshman, so she is not old enough to have her own prom, but she is dating a junior.  I like her boyfriend.  He's a good kid.  When we moved to Lincoln in 1998 so I could go back to school, I quickly became friends with Jayson Ferguson.  His wife and mine got along and our kids all seemed to like each other so we hung out together A LOT.  We spent a little over 3 years together in college before moving away, but have always kept in touch.  Now, a little over 10 years later, Kirsten and I are living in the same town as the Ferguson's once again.  Alex and Kirsten hit it off immediately and have been inseparable ever since.  I don't know how they will survive when we move back to Mt. Vernon at the end of this month.

Good kid or not, he is dating my daughter.  There are two problems with this.  First, my daughter is old enough to be dating.  Second, she IS dating.  No teenage boy truly understands what is going through a father's mind every time he walks out the door with our little girl.  He will understand one day, but for now I think I have done a pretty good job of making sure that Alex is scared of me.  We get along.  I like him and I believe that he likes me, but he knows that I could kill him without much thought or remorse.

Right after I graduated high school, I was headed to a girl's house to take her out for the first time.  When I arrived at her house, her mother invited me in to wait while my date finished getting ready.  Her father was sitting at the kitchen table glaring at me and cleaning one of the several guns he had spread about the room.  While her mother made small talk, the father just kept staring at me.  After several attempts at trying to get him to talk, I reached for the 16 gauge shotgun in front of me and began to clean it.  I guess none of her previous suitors had reacted in such a way, because he smiled and we got along fine from then on.  Unfortunately for Alex, I know that trick and it does not work on me.

Ready to take on the town
Alex is not Kirsten's first boyfriend.  Although, he is the first one I have let leave the house with her.  Her first boyfriend was too quiet.  I couldn't get the kid to talk.  When he did speak, he called me "SIR," which was a point in his favor, but he rarely said anything.  Her next one I was not a fan of.  The first time I met him he never acknowledged me standing there.  He spoke to Kirsten and ignored me.  Not a good first impression, Skippy.  He did the same the next time I saw him.  Do parents not teach their kids basic manners any more?

So, now she has been dating the same boy for over six months.  I am pleased that I am familiar with the boy that she is dating, but I cannot help but keep in mind that the longer a couple are together the more familiar they get with each other.  I am happy that she is dating a respectful, young man, but still wary of the mind of the average teenage boy.  I am not saying he has bad intentions, but I know how the male mind works, especially the adolescent male mind.

Need lots of pictures to make the parents happy
Regardless of where I stand on the dating life of my teenage daughter, she is growing up.  Her going to her first prom was a reminder of that fact.  In fact, today was a series of firsts reminding me all day.  Kirsten has not really worn high heels before, so today, her and I walked around the parking lot of our apartment so she could practice.  I have never walked in heels, so I could not offer any pointers, but I could observe to see if her walk looked natural.  She did not want to look stupid on heels.  She has noticed that at other dances, you can easily spot the girls that are not used to heels.  She wanted to look like a heels master.  Kirsten also decided that she wanted to wear fake lashes tonight.  After a couple of attempts at putting them on, she came and asked for my help.  Yes, I put my daughter's lashes on for her dance.  I did not get them straight on the first few attempts, but I figured it out and they look good.  I am secure enough in my masculinity that I can be proud of how well I put on fake lashes.   

So now I am at home alone hoping that they are having a good time, but not too good of a time.  I can't help but worry.  I love my daughter and it is wonderful to get to watch her grow into a young woman.  She has a good head on her shoulders and has a strong sense of values, but a father still worries.  I just want the best for her. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

He Lived to See Adulthood

My son turns 19 years old today and that means I am getting old, but this post is not about me.  This post is about him regardless of how he may feel about it.  I generally do not ask my kids permission to do things.  My daughter says that is why I am not allowed to go to her school: EVER!!!

Christian turned three about two months after I started dating his mother.  In the beginning, we did not get along.  Christian had never had to share his mother before and he did not like me invading his space.  I honestly cannot say that I was much of a fan of him either.  Sometimes he drew blood protecting his territory.  I would sit down next to his mother and he would scratch me.

He also had a problem with controlling his saliva.  He drooled so much his shirt was always soaked.  He puked several times a day and destroyed every room he walked into.  The relationship between him and myself was becoming a major issue, but it changed in one night.

Lower right
Christina had to go to work and I was going to be left with him alone for the first time.  To be quite honest, I was not looking forward to it and Christian was not at all happy to see his mother leave.  We watched her drive off and looked at each other with disdain.  As we were heading back to the house, I noticed that our aluminum can bag was overflowing.  Aluminum was the one thing I would recycle.  Once the bag would fill, I would crush all the cans and put them into another bag until it was full and then take that bag in to cash it out.  It takes a long time to crush a trash bag full of cans, so I had found a faster and much more entertaining way to crush them.  I would use the lawn mower.

I would dump the cans in the grass and ride over them again and again until they were all flat.  I know it sounds juvenile, but I enjoyed it and they were my cans.  I can do it however I want.  So, I grabbed the bag to dump it in the yard and it immediately ripped spilling the cans all over the stairs.  I started throwing the cans in the middle of the yard to get them away from the house so they could be more easily reached with the riding mower.  Christian came and started throwing the cans around as well.  He did not know why we were doing it, but he was having great fun throwing cans around the yard.

Once they were all over the front yard I got the lawn mower out.  Christian wanted to ride on it also, so I lifted him up onto my lap.  He had never sat in my lap before.  He immediately grabbed the steering wheel so he could drive and I let him.  Once he figured it out he steered all the way from the barn to the cans.  He had the biggest smile on his face I had ever seen.  The drool pool was building quickly because his mouth was wide open.

Since we had a big, wide-open yard there was little danger of him running into things, so  I put the mower in a low gear and hopped off, letting him have complete control of the machine.  Now, he was the coolest person on earth.  I instructed him to drive around the yard crushing the cans while I picked them up.  He was more than happy to comply.  He was having a blast being a big man.

Christmas was always fun
It took about half an hour to get all the cans crushed and picked up.  I told him to drive the mower back to the barn, but had to meet him there because he did not know how to make it stop.  He held his head high as we walked back to the house.  We went inside, ate ice cream and then kicked a football around the yard.  After that, we were buddies.  When his mother came home that night our differences were gone.

Mr Character at the bottom
Christian still had a talent for testing my limits, but we liked each other after that.  Part of the thrill of our relationship was me letting him do things no one else would.  We rode four-wheelers, played with snakes, blew stuff up and rolled in mud.  We would dress up in crazy outfits to pick his mother up from work.  We would butt each other in the head until someone gave up.  It was usually me; that boy had a head of granite.  When he got a little bit older, we liked to get dropped off miles away from home and then have to figure out how to get back without a vehicle.

Our adventures did not stop as he got older.  We always found ways to get in trouble together.  One summer, we broke into a neighbor’s house and decorated it for Christmas, tree and all.  While living in Lincoln, we got into a neighbor’s apartment to steal all their light bulbs (including the one in the refrigerator).  We once got into a fight at a club and we have played mind games with people on the streets of Chicago, Cleveland, San Juan and Kansas City. 

Closest thing he had ever seen to a stripper.  He got the money in the thong part right.
I raised him well.  The boy has no shame and is willing to pull any stunt that can be thought up.  He now plays lead guitar in a Christian death metal band and lives for the crowd.  I miss him.  We used to have a lot of fun together and I am sure we will still get into our share of mischief together, just not as often.

I am moving back to Mount Vernon in a couple of weeks and look forward to us hanging out again.  Other people may not want to be around us at the time, but we will enjoy ourselves.

I love you.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Look Out, World...I'm Back!

When I first started this blog seven months ago, I listed things about myself so my potential future readers could get to know me.  One of the items on that list stated that it has taken me 14 years to get my Bachelor’s degree.  That statement back in October was more speculative than fact, although a week from now, it will be true.  I am very proud to say that I will be a college graduate in one more week.

I never meant for it to take this long.  When I got out of high school, I went to college like most people do.  However, I hadn’t really given it a lot of thought.  I went to college because that is what you are supposed to do after high school.  I withdrew from my classes in the middle of my third semester at Rend Lake College.  I really didn’t want to be there.

I was excited to go to college at first.  I was finally out of high school and it was time to venture into adulthood, but the vision quickly fizzled when I got to RLC.  It took about a month for me to come to the conclusion that nothing had really changed.  I felt like I was still in high school.  College was supposed to be bigger and better, but the only things different were the increased commute time and number of students on campus.  The classes weren’t even harder.  What was the point?  DISCLAIMER:  I want to make it clear that I am not bashing Rend Lake College or any community college.  They have their place, but I expected so much more than what I experienced.

I definitely could have made better choices, but I was 19 and wanted to get on with my life.  I quit school, moved out of my parents house and ventured north to be with the girl I was dating at the time.  We were together for about another year before I moved back to my home town.

Fast forward about ten years and I had reached a point in my life where I knew it was time to get serious.  I was a year into my second marriage, had two kids, had become a Christian and decided I wanted to go into ministry.  The spring semester of 1998 I started classes at Lincoln Christian College (now Lincoln Christian University).  College was a whole different experience this time.

We moved into Married Student Housing and I hit the campus full-time.  This time I wanted to be there and instead of barely making it through my classes, I was on the Dean’s List.  I loved it.  It was difficult to balance the family with school and definitely challenging to find time to sleep, but I pushed through.  With the exception of one semester of part-time studies, I went full-time for three and a half years.

The summer before my senior year I accepted a job as minister at a church in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  The plan was to incorporate this job into my internship and finish my schooling through distance learning.  It may have delayed my degree by a semester or two, but I would be working in my field already.  A small delay would not be an issue.  However, things did not work out that way.

Due to a variety of issues, we were only on the island for seven months.  I will tell that story in a future blog.  None of my schooling had been started yet and we came back to the States.  After bouncing around for months of not being able to find decent work and living with my grandmother, we decided to go back to Lincoln.  We were there one semester before I was kicked out (another story I will tell in a future blog).

Seven years later I start taking classes through distance learning.  Just a class or two per semester.  I even took two classes that were on campus.  Once a week I would drive three hours for a class and then drive three hours home.  I was accumulating more credits, but it was a tediously slow process.  Finally, last November, I started full-time again.  I decided I need to get this finished and finally have it behind me.  I even doubled up on classes to get it done faster.  I took 24 hours this semester; it has been rough.

I have a few more papers due in the next week, but nothing I am worried about.  Last night I turned in a rough draft for a major assignment.  It has had me stressed for the last month, but was the last big assignment.  I have to fix it for the final paper, but the bulk of the work is done.  As soon as I hit the send button to my professor last night, I felt a huge weight fall off my shoulders.

I have opted to skip the ceremony (en absentia - LATIN: see how smart I am now) and just have my degree mailed to me, but I am attending a graduation banquet tomorrow night.  I am not interested in sitting in a stuffy room for hours after spending money for a black robe I will only wear once, but the opportunity for free food cannot be turned down.

I will finally have that piece of paper.  I started at Lincoln in the spring of 1998, so it only took me 13 ½ years, unless you want to count when I first started at Rend Lake, then it makes 21 years.  I will, at long last, be able to say I am a college graduate.  I do welcome any congratulations, but would more appreciate prayers.  I am starting my Master’s Degree next semester and would love to complete it before I retire.