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School: kid ready, dad not so much


   September's coming, and this September will be huge in my house: my baby's going to kindergarten.
   My Gillian's had a big last few months. She graduated from preschool; did pretty well at her dance recital (and for several command performances for family that was unable to attend); she had her first sleep-over with her cousin at her grandma's; and she's taking swimming lessons, managed to pass the Guppies stage but is being seriously challenged by the jump-off-the-pool's-edge aspect of the Minnows.
   I know she's ready for school as she's very much into science. I know this because she has what she calls her "nature box" full of juniper berries, dirt, grass and lavender sprigs. What's more, last weekend she opted for the $1 magnifying lens as her "don't-touch-anything" prize at Ace Hardware, allowing me to put back the Tootsie Rolls that she grabbed way before she achieved "don't-touch-anything" status.
   If all that science stuff wasn't enough, she asked a couple nights ago, during a full moon, if the moon was a long ways away. Oh yes, I told her. Then I told her that when I was her age, people went to the moon on rockets, and walked on it. She was quiet in her booster seat for a bit, I figured thinking about the deep concept of space travel. Then she asked, "Was the man there?"
   "What?" I asked.
   "The man, the man on the moon?"
   Like all kids, she asks funny questions.
   The question I hear most from her -- "Can you turn something on my channel?" -- will likely be heard until the day she gets her own television.
   The question I hear the second most: "Can we go to the playground today?" She asked it in a variety of ways, ranging from an excited manner after I tell her she did something well; or whispered as if the secret-ness of the idea will inspire an answer that fits her desire.
   A full 98 percent of the time the answer is no. Usually I can blame the weather. I tell her it's 95 degrees out and the metal of the swingset is so hot it would cause permanent burns. Or maybe it had recently dumped rain and her pants would get soaked. But weather aside, the main reason is because I think myself too busy to watch a 5-year-old run around a playset for an hour, trying to engage less-social kids in conversation, or if not, at least a game of tag.
   Throughout my answer of no, she looks like she's listening intently to my thoughtful reasons why we can't go to Juniper Hills Park at that moment. I finish my speech and there's that five-second moment of silence as she takes it all in ... then, "Can we go to the playground today?"
   My 5-year-old is either deaf or persistent. I like to think persistent.
   I know she's not deaf because she already likes music. And she's got a good ear. She can tell the difference between George Strait singing and me singing. The other day we were cruising with "Amarillo By Morning" on the radio. She told me that she liked the song. "Me too," I answered.
   "No, I mean I like this song so stop singing, Daddy."
   Science, music ... she's ready to learn.
   Yep, September is coming. Pretty soon we'll be consumed by the ups and downs of our football teams, bombarded by those uplifting election ads, then scraping ice from our windshields as we trudge off to work. And, our babies will be getting used to school, where they will have learned so much -- including that their new friends are a lot more fun to play with than their ol' dad.
   Heavy heart be damned, I am looking forward to unleashing my girl on the 509-J kindergarten program, mainly because she's looking forward to it so much. But I'm going to very much miss my preschooler following me around everywhere I go, asking me questions every moment. I'll miss her at lunch, where her mere presence is the brightest part of my day.
   I already wonder how long it will take until I stop worrying about her while she's at school, worrying about her feelings getting hurt, or her head getting bumped? But I know already that I'll never get over that, and that's perfectly OK.
   I also know that every day she goes to school is one day closer to the day I start asking her, "Hey, whacha say we go do something today?" And she'll likely be sitting there laid back on the couch, probably with ear buds on and sending out some all-important text, and she'll answer back something like "Naw, it's too hot," or "Looks like it gonna rain."
   So, enjoy the rest of the summer, all you good people of Jefferson County. Enjoy your kids, your family and friends; enjoy your lives. And by all means, say yes to the playground.