Opinion » Bill Cope

No Kid-Ding

Daddy's little career girl gets serious


Believe it or not, it's been almost a full year since I wrote a word on these pages about my child. My girl. "Pum'kin," as we used to call her.

There was a time when I couldn't get through a whole month without telling you about some funny thing she said, some funny situation she got herself into, some funny project she was involved in at school. Uh huh, I got a lot of mileage out of that kid. Two people I could always count on for material: her and George Bush.

But I'm guessing it's been at least 10 years now since she's asked for a meal of "pizgetti and meatballs," and even longer since she said "put up your pooks" when her and I did our little mock boxing routine. In fact, we haven't mock boxed since ... gee, I can't remember the last time. And I don't think I could get her into one of those strap-in bicycle kiddie seats anymore if we were being chased by dinosaurs and that was our only hope of escape.

The school she's in now doesn't do holiday pageants like the school she was in a decade ago, so there's little opportunity for her to dress up like a snowflake and memorize the words to "Frosty" or that "You'd better watch out, you'd better not cry" song. And I haven't seen her in one of her adorable OshKosh B'Gosh outfits since, I'm guessing, about the time she started worrying about what the other kids thought of her.

Frankly, she won't do a darn funny thing anymore. For instance, she's taking Driver's Ed. That's not funny. Nor do I expect it to get funnier anytime in the foreseeable future.

And she's gone out on some dates. That's not funny, either. Back when people used to joke how "Someday, ol' Dad's gonna have to camp out on the front porch with a cattle prod," I thought the idea was sort of funny. But now that I've actually done it? Not so fun, believe me.

It's not her fault she's not funny anymore. Just too busy, she is, to be keeping ol' Dad in stitches. She maintains good grades (I won't tell you exactly how good, because that would sound like bragging) and maintaining good grades eats up a lot of time. Plus, she's involved in about every other thing her school has going. Why, just yesterday she had to cut out of her youth bowling league early so she could help her NHS buddies clean up a stretch of Ada County's roadsides. (NHS stands for National Honor Society ... not that I'm bragging.)

In another week, she's off to Twin Falls to compete in some FFA deal. She had to back out of a band trip to California for that, since both events ended up on the same days. It was a hard choice to make. One teacher was pulling one arm, another teacher was pulling the other, and there she was in the middle, all stressed and feeling like the last piece of pizza in a four-boy family. She was nuts for a week over it. I offered to go down to the school with my cattle prod and straighten it out for her, but we both knew it was a decision she had to make on her own.

In the end, it came down to what she feels she needs most for the future she's envisioned for herself. That's right, she's already sweating resume. Credentials. Career path. Those unpredictable choices between perceived success and perceived failure. And that is so damned unfunny I want to spit.

She's 16, for Christ's sake. And here she is, worried that if she slips up and takes a wrong fork or two, she's going to end up in the fast lane to Loserville.

This is not something she inherited from her ol' dad. Her ol' dad didn't believe in career paths even back when career paths meant something. You know ... back when a career path didn't lead to India or South Korea. Back when loyalty was a two-way agreement between employee and employer. Back when a hot job market didn't have a life span only slightly longer than the time it takes to get the degree to enter it.

Besides, I've seen too many people who realized--sometimes too late--they were steered down the wrong path. Know what I mean? ... engineers who might have been artists, artists who would have been happier as plumbers, plumbers who would have made fine engineers?

Nor is it the schools' fault my daughter's not funny anymore. The pressure they put on our kids is only a reaction to the pressure being put on them by political leaders, who in turn are simply responding to the pressure from business interests concerned they aren't getting enough properly-conditioned gerbils out of our public schools to spin their corporate wheels.

We see it in the move to intensify math and science education, which inevitably will come at the expense of both the humanities and many kids' emotional health. In this rush to prioritize fields of study for economic competitiveness, there is little consideration for the individual dispositions of students or for the larger satisfaction that comes with a broad and diverse education.

And it's only going to get worse. From Florida comes word the governor (that would be the tubby Bush boy, as opposed to the dumb one and the crooked one) is pushing the notion that high school students should pick a major. That's right... like in college. Isn't that something--that 15-year-old kids may have to compartmentalize their educational experience so as to better prepare themselves for a career path that--if Jeb gets his way--they will have been forced to chose long before they're educated enough to have a clue what their choice means?

That's odious, but it's the sort of odious that will likely appeal to the Republican world view. After all, there's not that much difference between the old Soviet attitude that individuals must conform to fill the needs of the state, and the current Republican attitude that individuals must conform to fill the needs of the market, is there? So I fully expect that Jeb's idea of adolescent indenturement will spread out of Florida like an avian flu, borne on the wings of conservative birdbrains.

But perhaps I've turned a little unfunny, myself. I truly meant this to be one of those "kids do the darnedest things" columns, but somewhere along the way, it went depressing on me. Sorry.

I know what I'll do. By gosh, if my daughter won't be funny for me, I'll be funny for her. First, I'll call her "Pum'kin" and see what she does, ha ha. Then I'll suggest that maybe it's better to let a job grow into you than force yourself to grow into a job. And for the punchline, I'll point out that success comes with many faces, the ugliest of which is when it's defined by someone else.

Yeah, that'll crack her up.