• Kurt J. Kolka

A LEARNING EXPERIENCE

In recent weeks, many of us have been celebrating the achievements made by young adults in our communities. Graduation. That includes my wife and I. Our one and only child graduated high school back on June 3.

Is this really the same little girl whom I saw for the first time at Otsego Memorial Hospital some 18 years ago? The little baby whose umbilical cord I cut shortly after she was born. She was the baby who brought grandparents racing up to Gaylord just to hold her for a few minutes on her first day in this new world.

Of the infancy stage, I mostly remember those long nights when she was ill. Diane and I would take turns rocking her, catching the occasional 40 winks. Some nights seemed to go on forever.

Sometimes I wondered, "What do I have to give this child, as her father? What will our relationship be like in the future? Will we have much in common?"

Not only was this a whole new world for her, but she opened a whole new world for us (or at least, me). My wife seemed to take the whole parenting thing in stride, as if it were second nature to her. Me, I felt like the fumbling dad during those early years.

But soon I found my place. Or, at least, one of them. We started reading every night. As a English/literature major in college, reading to her was natural. And soon we were off on wonderful adventures together.

I'll never forget that book with photos of animals (though the title escapes me now). It had few words, so I made up sentences about the animals as we went along. She always thought the pig looked like it was wearing high heals.

Many titles opened under her bedside reading lamp. There were the "Clifford the Big Red Dog" years. If we were planning a vacation during elementary school, we sometimes read books related to places we would be visiting. As she grew older, we read collections of Harold Gray's famous comic strip, "Little Orphan Annie" and talked about the character's behaviors. One summer we even visited the house near Chicago where Gray created his iconic character.

And of course there were those scary nights. You know the ones. I had to grab a toy gun and scare the monsters out from under the bed.

During some of our experiences, I wondered who was doing more of the learning -- her or I? Certainly, there is a learning curve to parenting. Maybe they should give tests before allowing people to raise a child. Although, I probably would not have passed back then. So much of learning to parent is done in the moment.

Each new year brought with it new learning experiences. We wanted her to be well rounded, trying new things. There were lots of moments of encouraging and gentle pushes to go forward, reassuring her one of us was behind her each step. Neither of us will forget the time we climbed the scary ladder to reach the top of the lighthouse in Mackinaw City.

I remember one year in elementary school at Otsego Christian School, we watched the complete series of "Lost in Space" together in the evenings. (One of my favorites from childhood.) Many people see TV as a waste of time, but doesn't have to be. Like books, we used the time to talk about situations and bad decisions the characters made. What a lousy decision-maker Dr. Smith was!

As someone who was horrible at sports as a kid, I wondered "how do I get her to appreciate these activities?" Sports are even more a part of life now than when I was growing up. So, we started attending Lady Cardinal basketball games as she became older. She learned to appreciate excitement and suspense involved in cheering for a favorite team.

Then came high school. The uncertain girl who entered Gaylord High School in 2012 was far different than the confident young woman who graduated there a few weeks ago. Various activities, especially theater, and new friends continued to encourage her to challenge herself. Over the four years there, she bloomed as an actress and a leader.

This past winter came her crowning moment when she was crowned Miss Alpenfrost. (Sigh.) Yup. That was my daughter up there on that stage and she was wearing a crown like she used to during dress-up time years ago.

That was just a lead-in to a bigger event though. A few weeks ago, she walked across another stage, at the high school gym, with honors and accepted a diploma. I don't have the words to express the feeling of pride I had for her and how far she had come.


I must say, as she held that diploma, I felt as if I had received one too. Daddy school graduate. Of course, she got the better grades.

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