What’s the heaviest load you can carry? How much work can you handle before you crack?

I need to shift gears for a minute and talk about something personal. If you don’t feel like reading about me gushing about my family, it’s time to click “Next”.

I really love my kids. All (4) of them. They do some amazing, funny, incredible, funny, interesting, and funny things. And they’re funny, too.

But recently one of them has done a few things that are amazing enough that I had to comment on it. I’m well aware that she hates being publicly acknowledged (she takes after her Mother, rather than me) so she’s going to hate this. And you know what? Tough.

Let’s start with her committment to education. Back in the summer before eighth grade, she decided that public school wasn’t for her. That’s not unique. Lots of 13 year olds say “school sucks”. But her reasons were a little different: It went too slow, the kids were (generally) too unfocused, and she felt she could get more done on her own. So, for her eight-grade year she basically home-schooled herself, with light supervision from my wife and I. And it worked. She rocked through the year, usually in less hours per day or week than school would have taken. She was happier, she had learned more, and everyone was happy.

While she stopped homeschooling and moved to an online school the following year, she still enjoyed a level of freedom and control over her schoolwork that few kids get to experience.

The net result? Here at the end of her 11th grade year she has exactly one credit left in order to complete High School. And that’s after taking just one credit this year. She had all but completed high school in 2 years.

She held back those two credits because my state has a “Post Secondary Education Option”, which means it will pay the tuition if high school kids go to college before graduation. So this year, at the tender age of 16, she also enrolled in her first set of freshman courses at a local college and took more-or-less a full load of classes. By the time she graduations from high school, she will have 2 years of college also under her belt.

Honestly though, lots of kids do that around here – dozens, if not hundreds. If that was all, I’d be proud but I wouldn’t be writing this post.

During this past year my daughter also got a job, at a local bakery. She liked to bake at home, and thought she could leverage that interest into work that didn’t make her want to gouge her eyes out with a happy meal toy. It was a good job, and my daughter learned a lot and had a good time in the process.

Then the owner of the bakery went in for a routine medical exam and the doctor found a lump near his kidneys. Suddenly he was looking at surgery and several weeks of recovery, and nobody at the bakery to cover during that time.

So, for the next two weeks, my daughter went in to work at 4:00am to learn all the recipes. And for 2 months after that, she was the baker. She didn’t run the store – there were other adults that handled the books and billing and such. And the rest of the back-room staff were still there to do their jobs. But every morning it was my daughter who came in and lit the ovens, maintained the inventory, mixed the ingredients, rolled out the cakes and breads and cookies, tested and approved the results before it moved to the front to be sold.

For two and a half months, she ran herself from 4am until 9pm, working the bakery, catching classes at college, going back to the bakery, then coming home to study and write reports and attend her one high school class. All so a man she had only recently met would have a business to come back to after he recovered from having a 2.25lb cancerous mass removed from his back.

During that time, if you asked her about it, you’d get her trademark shrug, a “whatever”, and then she would tell you how the cake decorator threw flour at her this morning in retaliation for the prank she pulled on him the day before.

Then came the crash. The bakery stayed open late into the night one weekend, and everyone was on hand to deal with the anticipated flood of customers. What they didn’t anticipate was a car coming through the front of the store. Nobody was hurt, and in the end the store didn’t even lose a single cupcake. But having a 2002 Mercury come through a plate glass window can be unsettling, to say the least. Some of the staff was so shaken up they had to go home. But, according to the adults who were there, my daughter was unflappable. She moved between tasks – pulling bread out of the oven before it overcooked; moving product away from the broken glass; finding boxes and buckets for the cleanup; ringing up sales for customers who were undaunted by the damage and still wanted their two loaves of rye, sliced if possible.

For a grizzled old jaded adult, there are things to be learned in all of this.

  • Working harder today does not always mean you earned the punishment of having to work harder again tomorrow. Sometimes it means you get to do what you want tomorrow.
  • If your values say “yes”, it should always trump your fear saying “no”
  • Don’t underestimate yourself, don’t overestimate the challenge, and don’t overthink the situation.

Yesterday, she reached another milestone. At 17 she took her last final, and simultaneously completed her junior year of high school and her freshman year of college. I don’t think she’s going to pull straight-A’s this year. I believe there will be a “B” or two in the mix.

In this case, I’m not inclined to sweat the small stuff.

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