The Cal Bear Coefficient

On Saturday we drove out to Bear Territory. We went to my niece’s graduation at UC Berkeley where the mascot is, of course, a bear.

Going to college has always been part of conversations with our kids, just as my parents did with me, just as I have done with all of my students including students that I’ve subbed for. It’s something that I expect our children to do.

I fell deeply and madly in love with Stanford as a freshman in high school when my English teacher brought us there for a campus visit one sunny spring day. I was surrounded by old buildings, freedom, and a tiny window of what the future might hold.

That window would later fog up with disappointment and despair. My parents no longer approved of going to the nearby community college and transferring. I was to get the hell out of my hometown asap. Just hurry up and go to a university, they said.

To this day, I have no idea how I was accepted into the only university I applied but the University of San Francisco is where I spent the next five years getting my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. The stars were aligned for my family as my cousin who was a USF alum would be starting her dentistry program at UCSF just a few miles away.

I think I may have gotten lost, or worst, fallen through the cracks at a larger university. USF allowed me room to grow, a safe place for me explore, and a critical starting point for the rest of my life.

Funny how things work out, don’t they?

There were over 2000 names read at the UC Berkeley graduation.

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Thankfully, my niece E was near the front of the line so my kids and I did not have to sit through those names and the rest of the graduation under the hot sun. I heard her name, whooped as loud as I could, and we got out of there as soon as we could. We took our time walking back to the car as I prayed that the traffic gods would be kind to me. Suburban life spoils; paying for parking is devastating.

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After the graduation, we took E out for lunch at the Elephant Bar in Emoryville. The kids and I have never been there. My son took a look at the place and declared, “This is just like the Rainforest Cafe but not as fancy.”

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The entire day I was so happy. Happy for E that she reached a milestone that few ever have. Happy reflecting upon my own college graduations that happened what seems like a bazillion years ago. Happy that we could attend her graduation when her parents could not (they will be attending a smaller, more intimate graduation later this week).

My son asked why we traveled so far and waited so many hours for a graduation.

I turned to him and said, “One day, Mommy and Daddy might not be able to make your graduation or other big event. It’s nice to have family around so that if we can’t go, someone will always be there for you. That’s what families do.”

Families also celebrate with cupcakes.

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I exhibited major self-control and bought one item per person as opposed to the Krispy Kreme dozen free-for-all I find myself creating.

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After we dropped off E back to her sorority house, the kids were immersed in the Barnes & Noble finds. A found a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not book that has pics that are disgusting and make me cringe but she loves them and devours every description and zany fact on each one. Decoding, reading comprehension, excitement over gathering information from text… an educator couldn’t ask for more. L found a book about a dog named Biscuit, aptly titled Biscuit. Lots of Dolch words in that book. M is on an origami kick and found a kit that was reasonably priced but what was really interesting was the interest he took in a Super Mario Bros music book for the piano. He was reading and humming the music to himself.

M had one year of formal training in piano lessons through his Montessori preschool back in Virginia Beach but he has been teaching himself how to play. He’ll ask for help from me once in a while but I have never sat down with him for an actual lesson. He asked for a piano teacher at one point when he noticed he had a handful of friends who were not only musically inclined but also had music teachers to monitor their progress.

Music teachers are hugely talented and I have deep respect for them but quality teachers are very expensive. I told M what he would do if he had lessons. Review. Theory. Chord and scale practice. Learning new music. Repeat.

The bulk of the work comes from the student when he’s NOT with the teacher. Practicing daily without me telling you to.

A lightbulb went off in his head. I bought him leveled books to keep his frustration level low. When he mastered one book, I’d get the next one. He finds music on YouTube and learns through tutorial videos as well. He has accomplished far more without a teacher than I have at his age.

Driving back home, I had a huge sense of pride in my passengers. They were self-motivated, cooperative, asked for help when they needed it, and thanked their siblings when they got it. I look forward to them graduating from college and seeing their faces when they realize our family continues to be there for them too.

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