Friday, June 27, 2008

Agenda for my daughter

She didn't win any academic awards or sports medals, didn't distinguish herself in any way (by her own estimate, she ranked in the bottom third of her class), but last week, when my daughter, C, 17, graduated from Bronx High School of Science, it was a huge achievement. She was overcome by panic and dread her first two years, worried that she didn't look right, that she wouldn't have anyone to sit with at lunch, that she couldn't do the work, that her teachers hated her (and they did hate her, I could tell in parent-teacher conferences, hated the way she twisted the ends of her hair, hated the way she tried to look cool and uninterested, hated her for not participating)—yet she dragged herself off most mornings (or at least allowed herself to be shoved out the door), and she made it, she graduated.

Throughout those first tough years—during which she smoked and drank and took money from my purse and lied and broke her curfew and ate lunch in the park that I was warned was the threshold to hell (although now that it's all ancient history, I can see she was moderate in her misdemeanors)—I had a one-item agenda for her: that she graduate from high school. If she would just graduate, I would be satisfied. Anything else she chose to do after that would be fine with me. I would stop worrying. I would take pleasure in who she was and not ask her to be a different version of herself.

Now that she's graduated, alas, I've started a new agenda for her: that she love college, that she find meaningful work, that she look within and find her true self, that she become a force in her own life.

These are good things. But why do I hold her to a higher standard than I have met in my own life? I didn't so much love college as the social life I found there, didn't find meaningful work (although it sometimes fell into my lap), haven't found my true self, continue to be blown about rather than seize hold of my life.

I stumbled into my 30-year "career" at a major newsmagazine when an acquaintance got me a job as a night proofreader (every shift a slumber party!) and became a copy editor when proofreaders began to be phased out (a tad more gravity amid the hilarity) and later, putting one foot in front of the other in a not-very-imaginative way, a fact checker, a reporter, a writer, and since 9/11, when I couldn't take the stress anymore, a copy editor again. At 58, with copy-editing an endangered profession, I'm hoping to eke out my employment till I reach a respectable retirement age. The profession and my working life will expire together.

It's a trivial job. I find answers to questions no one bothers to ask, fix infelicities no one notices and devise solutions to conundrums that puzzle no one. Would anyone else spend 9 hours a day resolving these:

—"It is a technique so cutting edge it is not yet available for use in humans": The adjective "cutting-edge" is hyphenated when it precedes a noun, but should it be hyphenated when it follows a noun, as it does here?

—"Less than 1% have a negative reaction": Should "less than" be "fewer than" since the ultimate referent is animals rather than a percentage? Isn't that why the verb "have" is plural?

—"The duo has a reasonable shot at success": Should "duo" be construed as a plural, since it refers to two people in business together and not a musical act?

—Is the plural of cabernet sauvignon "cabernets sauvignons" or "cabernets sauvignon" or "cabernet sauvignons"?

—Then there's the can of words that is "eco": eco-friendly, eco-consciousness, eco-designer, eco-pad and eco-minded, but ecotour, ecoterrorism and ecotoxicology.

With C about to spend four years at Skidless, I no longer even think about another, more interesting job—or is that just an excuse? Like all the other excuses I've made all along for why I let life happen to me? And why do I think C shouldn't let life happen to her?

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