On Influences

>> Friday, June 9, 2017

Yesterday I had the pleasure of joining Ada's early kindergarten class on their field trip to the local zoo. After six weeks of almost steady rain showers, the weather has finally cleared and warmed up. I got there a bit late to accommodate Eloise's morning nap and -- after a short jog through half the park -- I finally met up with the kids at the bear exhibit.

Ada greeted me with a squeal and immediately rushed to kiss her baby sister. ("Hey, everyone! Look -- it's MY baby!") What struck me as we walked along the path gawking at peacocks, foxes, and pandas (zoos are weird for me) is that Ada's not just mine anymore. She'd often reach for the class aide's hand to show her something before looking in my direction. She'd eagerly call for her teacher to watch her to do gymnastics move on the playground after lunch as if I didn't exist. She'd even lock arms with her best friends, calling them by cute nicknames and sharing what seemed like budding personal jokes.

My first inclination was to feel slighted. After all, I had just rushed way across town only to sprint up a quarter mile hill pushing a jogging stroller (while wearing a dress!) to spend time with her. She should be looking at me, me, ME.


But I stopped myself sort of that emotion. Truth is, there are many people who are shaping the sweet girl that Ada is becoming. Long gone are those isolated infant days where it was just me . . . and her . . . for hours on end, week after week. I think back to those days often, as I'm currently in that stage with Eloise. It's hard. There's part of me that yearns to be outside this bubble. To drop my tiny one off at preschool and get some much-needed me-time. But this time is actually quite precious in how fleeting it is. I definitely see that now.

From here on out, the influences on Ada's life will only grow bigger in importance. They will help direct her interests and mold her into the woman she will one day become. They will have the power to encourage or even crush her. Stephen and I are definitely top of the list of these people -- there's no denying that. But they'll ever-increasingly be very close seconds.

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I got to thinking about influences today when I stumbled upon a news report that my chorus director from grades 5 through 12 has retired this year. I've mentioned on the blog that singing, festivals, and shows were a large part of my childhood. Mrs. Smithgall was always at the center of those performances and excursions. We pecked out notes and practiced rhythms to prepare for so many different concerts.

But it was, of course, more than just that. Singing taught me discipline. Performing gave me confidence. Auditioning for things humbled me. These things still carry me through life all these years later, though now I mostly sing along with my Hamilton CD in the car.

Add to this list my favorite English teacher. She's also retiring this year. I credit Mrs. Higham with more than simply sparking my love for writing. I'll be honest, she terrified me the first year I had her. Before stepping foot into her classroom, I had never really taken my studies seriously. Something compelled me to try honors English. But I would often not read our assigned chapters. I'd expend little effort on assignments. And my teacher would not stand for that sort of nonsense.

Quickly, I cleaned up my act . . . and it carried through to the rest of my classes, too. I went from getting like a 3.2 GPA to a 4.0. I learned that writing was more than some evil punishment. Essays can actually be fun to write. Words are art as much as paintings are photographs are. And -- yup -- I decided to study it in college and make a career of it.

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Then I think of Stephen. As a high school English teacher and coach for both cross country and track, he's an influence on far more lives than just the ones in our family. I don't necessarily give him that credit -- at least not like I should. We all influence people in our own ways. It's a difficult job. It sometimes requires long hours. Heck -- it's even a job we often don't realize we're doing if we haven't formalized it with a title.

I could go on, but I'll end my musings here. As I watched the footage of Mrs. Smithgall's last concert, I actually found myself feeling a bit sappy. I remembered the song the kids were singing in the finale quite well -- the "Rhythm of Life". Life surely has a rhythm of sorts, right? It's more than just a clever lyric. Our life's rhythm changes as we age. It picks up pace at times. It has wild crescendos at others. And it's definitely punctuated by the people we surround ourselves with. Take some time today, if you will, to listen back to your own mental track and pick out a few of those beats that have changed you.

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