Chuck Williams: Sometimes your child does know more than you do

June 17, 2013 

Parenting is a trap.

You think you have them in the trap, but sometimes you end up in the teeth of a tight grip.

Such was the case more than four years ago. My daughter, Carmen, was about to graduate from Columbus High. She had a plan, head to Georgia State University and get right in the middle of downtown Atlanta.

I had a different plan. Two or three semesters at Columbus State, maintain the HOPE scholarship, then on to Atlanta.

She won.

Boy, did she win. She went to Georgia State fresh out of Columbus High, learned how to deal with city life. She even marched in the Georgia Tech band and made an Orange Bowl trip — it’s a long story. She worked her plan, semester after semester. She altered the plan when necessary, dumping her journalism major a year into college.

She played her college fund like a fiddle, avoiding student debt. She worked in university housing to pull it off. Most of here college career, she lived a block from Grady Hospital.

She made the right decisions at the right times.

After her freshman year, I was bringing her home from Atlanta. At that time it was obvious she had made the right call. I asked how she had made it work. She told me there were two primary reasons.

First, Columbus High, which prepared her to write the research papers needed to make the grades to remain HOPE eligible. And second, Country’s Barbecue. She has worked as a waitress at Country’s since her sophomore year in high school, and she said the experience she gained at the Mercury Drive location had taught her to multi-task.

College is all about multi-tasking, she said. So is raising kids.

I know there are parents today who are where my wife Cathy and I were four years ago. They think their kid is making a mistake in choosing a college.

We thought so. We didn’t make it easy. Carmen never had a car in downtown Atlanta — student parking is more than I paid in quarterly tuition at Troy University in the 1970s. But she had a ride home any hour — Marta to Groome to Columbus.

She made it work.

She graduated on time. She was in the Georgia State homecoming court last fall and was honored by the university in the spring for her community service work with the downtown homeless through SafeHouse Outreach, a faith-based Atlanta shelter.

Last fall, one of her high school mentors, Jane Strunk, approached me at a civic event. Years earlier, I suggested Jane help me to steer her toward CSU and away from Georgia State.

Jane thought I was wrong then, and said so. With four years of results to back her up, Jane looked at me and in the nicest possible words said, “I told you so.”

Yes, you did, Jane. I just wasn’t listening.

All of this is said because Carmen is off on a new adventure. She followed her step-mother with a degree in non-profit management. I thought, great, we can get her back to Columbus. There are plenty of non-profit organizations here. She also got Cathy’s passion for public education. She left Friday for Detroit — as in Michigan.

She has been hired by Teach for America, a non-profit organization that puts teachers in the toughest schools in the country. It is a two-year commitment in educational war zones. She will be teaching elementary school somewhere in Detroit for the next two years. First, she must spend most of the summer training in Chicago.

Four years ago, I thought she was this crazy kid with wild dreams and unrealistic expectations.

Today? Not so much.

My little girl is grown, and she wants to change the world. Who the hell am I to tell her she can’t?

Chuck Williams, senior editor for content, chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.com.

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