Musings of a proud papa as his daughter goes away to school

The weather in Ithaca, N.Y., was delightful last weekend. I was there helping my daughter, Darlene, get settled in at Cornell, where she got a full scholarship to pursue her graduate degree(s). I got back in time to watch my son, Alexander, start his studies in computer engineering at the UA. It's a melancholy time.

When Darlene was born, my wife and I were in the process of buying a house. We learned the hard way that no matter how much money I made as a freelance writer, the suits wouldn't count it as income, because I didn't have a steady job. We had to qualify solely on my wife's income, and so when Darlene came along, we decided that my wife would keep her job as a teacher, and I would stay at home with the kid(s) and write in my spare time.

This "spare time" concept, of course, is one of the dumbest things that has ever popped into my head in my entire life. It might be No. 1 were it not for that "Why should I be afraid of that guy with a gun? He'll never shoot me" episode.

Darlene would sleep six, maybe seven hours in a 24-hour period. She would reluctantly go to sleep at around 11 p.m. and be wide awake by 5 a.m. She'd go weeks without taking a nap. She wouldn't cry; she'd just be in her crib, rattling the bars of her cage, wanting to get out. She was walking steadily at nine months. I always said that she was potty trained at 22 months and, a couple months later, she was training others.

We did everything together. When she was 2, we'd get in the car, and I'd say, "one," then she'd say, "two," and we'd keep on counting until we got to our destination. Counting up to 1,000 may sound boring, but when you do it with your kid, it's an adventure.

Her Grandma Gutierrez used to speak to her in Spanish and would make up all these cutesy names for her. One day, when Darlene was around three, I started mimicking her grandmother and saying, "Tsee-tsee baaaaby ... ." Darlene looked up at me and, with an incredibly serious tone and completely out of nowhere, said, "My name is Woggy Bazoo."

That scared the crap outta me.

She got the chicken pox in the second grade and missed two days of school; those would be the only absences of her life. (Alexander recently completed 13 years of perfect attendance, and believe me, he holds those two days in the second grade over Darlene's head.) Darlene got one A- in her entire life. It was in advanced Spanish, and I blame it on all that gibberish her grandma used to throw at her.

For years, she was part of a top-notch Folklorico dance troupe; she also did tap and ballet. Then she got into sports and just went nuts. One summer afternoon, she was at a neighbor's house, playing in the water, when she stepped in a hole and hurt her foot. I told her she couldn't play in the softball game that night. She insisted she was fine, so we wrapped her ankle and she played. After the game, I took her to the doctor just to have her checked, and it turned out that she had a broken leg.

OK, so I wasn't nominated for Father of the Year during that particular 12-month period.

She roared through middle school, getting A's, playing every sport she could, learning to play the flute, continuing to dance and serving Mass every Sunday at church.

In high school, she became the only kid in the history of Arizona to letter in five different varsity sports (she was twice first team all-conference in volleyball, all-conference in softball, conference champion in the shot put and runner-up in the discus in track, and three-time captain of the conference championship basketball team). She was a four-year member of the marching band, served in Student Council and National Honor Society, was in Girl Scouts through her senior year, was valedictorian of her graduating class and was the first Tucsonan ever named the state AIA Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

Last semester, she was finishing up her honors degree in Engineering, was captain and starting setter for the UA club volleyball team that went to nationals, served as an officer for the UA chapter of the Society of Civil Engineers, coached a high school JV basketball team to a 14-2 record, helped run an adult basketball league all day on Sundays, tutored a couple kids in math, coached a high school softball team (that only had nine players!) into the state tournament, played several intramural sports and worked 20 hours a week for the city of Tucson Traffic Engineering Department.

Over the years, I've been accused of pushing her to do things, but I swear, it has always been a matter of her pulling me (and others) along. I'm not really sure what fuels her, but what she does, she does. And now she's doing it at Cornell, and I can't wait for Thanksgiving.

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