26 August 2002

My New Life

Originally written August 26, 2002

Well, here goes. I’m not sure if my new life will involve writing more, but I’d like to hope so. I think about writing a lot, I just don’t actually DO it. Now with a little extra personal motivation, I begin, and write about the source of that motivation.

What does “my new life” mean? My life is new every day, or at least that’s how I choose to think about it. But most recently, my new life revolves around my new daughter, Audrey Marie Garoutte, age 14 weeks. I have been catching myself thinking, “I love my new life. Thank you, God, for giving us a wonderful daughter,” while sitting quietly at home, driving to work… whenever I have a spare moment.

There is a story here. I just don’t know where to start.

Susan and I always knew we wanted to have children. I don’t think she knew how important it was for me. I think that men—some consciously, some not—see in their chosen mates their possible offspring from day one. I always wanted Susan to have our baby. I wanted her genes in that little package, and if some of mine had to be dragged along, then so be it. And I always talked about having a “little Susan.” Yes, I hoped we would have a girl. It’s not politically correct to say that, and I didn’t say it to anyone before she was born, but I guess it’s OK to say so now. And we are led to believe that most men want to have a son. There’s a topic for another time. Of course, now that we have Audrey, we know that she is not a “little Susan” any more than she is a “little Michael.” She is her own person, and we started getting to know her months before she was born. But I digress…

Here’s an example of my new life. What was my day like today? Susan and I woke up about 6:30 or 6:45. No alarm clocks, we just woke up. Now there’s a change from a few months ago. And no, the baby wasn’t up yet. We took advantage of the freedom to have a little time to ourselves. Fifteen or twenty minutes later, Audrey was up and we started the day for real. I showered while Susan nursed her. Susan showered while I fed her some formula. Susan took her to daycare as I went to the office.

I had a good day at work. I’ve been in a good mood since school started, actually.

I had to leave a meeting at 5:30 that could have been over, but wasn’t, to get to the daycare by 6:00. Audrey hadn’t slept since 2:20, I discovered, so she fell asleep in the car. At home, I transferred her to the crib and she slept for half an hour.

Here’s the good part. She woke up at 6:30, and as usual, cried some. I went in to get her, and, again as usual, she stopped crying and smiled at me. I could stop right there. I don’t need any other reasons for having children than that. That smile could carry me for weeks.

So I picked her up, took her into the living room, and put her in the new “seat on a spring” that a patient of Susan’s gave us a couple of days ago. (An aside—having kids is a great way to see the generous side of humanity. Everyone loves a baby, and they all give you stuff.) What this is is a chair held up by three straps. These straps are connected to a spring, which is connected to another strap, which connects to something like crawdad pincers which hooks over the molding at the top of a doorway. Cool, huh? Well, Audrey can’t even sit up on her own yet, but she can hold up her head, and she has strength in her legs.

So I put her in this seat, and just watched. The entertainment value is amazing. Forget TV; babies are it. Especially your own.

For about 15 minutes she sat in this chair. Right away she figured out that moving her feet was causing her to spin around. But I was waiting for her to start bouncing up and down. I didn’t expect her to get it right away, and she didn’t, but she loves bouncing on my knee, and I was sure she would like this seat too. Well, pretty soon she figured out, sort of, that lifting up her legs made her bounce a little. She squealed with delight. Wow! This was so neat to watch that I had to call Susan at work and tell her, and let her hear the squeals. Audrey couldn’t repeat the bouncing at will, but she did it a few times before she got frustrated that her legs weren’t doing quite what she wanted them too and started getting fussy (about the time I got Susan on the phone).

Then it was bath time, dinnertime, and bedtime for her. Susan got home about halfway through dinnertime.

So now, after our dinner (thank God for leftovers and a wife who knows how to plan ahead) and after reading through the issue of PC magazine that arrived in today’s mail, I have time to write this. Its now 9:43, and Susan told me she was getting ready for bed 45 minutes ago. I’ll follow her shortly.

So my new life includes most of the same things as before, and they are all just as important to me as they were before. I just have a new priority added at the top of the list. And I wouldn’t change that for anything.

If you have kids, then you probably understand exactly what I am talking about. Even if you don’t, imagine the joy at watching a new little person discover everything about the world from scratch. That those things in front of her face are actually her hands, and that she can hold them in that place for as long as she wants to study their form and function. That she can make herself bounce in a chair by picking up her legs. Her whole world is confined to the room she is in, and we get to watch as it, and she, grows and grows. And maybe we can make her world better than ours is.

01 May 2002

Honors Convocation Speech

This is the text of a speech I gave at the MSSC Honors Convocation on May 1, 2002. I was the chair of the Honors Convocation Committee, and as such had the privilege of addressing the honorees and their guests.
All of us here on stage—and your peers, instructors, families and friends in the audience—have gathered here for the same reason: to honor you, our outstanding graduates. We are here to recognize you and your success at Missouri Southern.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Self-trust is the first secret of success.” On the other hand, he also said, “Another success is the post-office, with its educating energy augmented by cheapness and guarded by a certain religious sentiment in mankind.” Perhaps the post office has changed.

Barbra Streisand once said, “Success to me is having ten honeydew melons, and eating only the top half of each one.”

As I talk to you this morning, I would like you to keep in the back of your mind two concepts: success, and change—two perhaps seemingly unrelated concepts. I believe that both are relevant to this audience.

Twenty-five years ago, the first annual Missouri Southern Honors Convocation was held. It was instituted by the faculty to honor our outstanding students and to encourage underclassmen to aspire to excellence.

Sixteen years ago, an anxious seventeen-year-old started school here at Missouri Southern. His mother bought him sheets for the dormitory-sized beds and helped him move into a room in Richard M. Webster Hall.

Fifteen years ago, a busy young student was often found carrying his 5 ¼” floppy disk to the Learning Center on the third floor of Spiva Library, where he would use that disk to boot up an IBM PC, write an English paper or laboratory report, and print it out on a 9-pin dot-matrix printer. Or he might even use a typewriter.

Thirteen years ago, an anxious young man sat in the audience in this auditorium, participating in the Missouri Southern Honors Covocation, just as you are today, and planning to attend graduate school. He was uncertain about his future, but happy that the school he had chosen for his graduate work was close enough to his girlfriend to allow him to see her on a regular basis.

Eleven years ago, an anxious young man walked down the aisle and married his college sweetheart.

Six years ago, a young college teacher changed jobs, happy to take a new position at Missouri Southern State College.

A few minutes ago, a thirty-something college teacher began his remarks, while anxiously awaiting the imminent birth of his and his wife’s first child.

I would call each step in this story one of change, and of success. Since it is my story, I am free to do that. I am not sure how much of that success is due to my own choices, fate, or gifts from God. But I am free to decide for myself my own definition of success. So is Barbra Streisand. And so are you.

At Missouri Southern State College, many things have changed in the last twenty-five years. Our freshmen have never seen a 5 ¼” floppy disk. We have a new Webster Hall, and the dormitory has a new name.

Many things have not changed. We are here today to honor our outstanding graduates, just as was done twenty-five years ago. You can be proud of the successes that you have achieved so far. And perhaps you are not sure where your future will lead you.

So students, as your lives move on to the next stage—and as I congratulate you on your success at Missouri Southern—I encourage you to trust in yourself. Keep striving for success. And as you do, each line in your story will be a story of change.

What will you be doing ten years from now? Will you have succeeded in your current goals? Perhaps you will … or perhaps you will have decided upon an entirely different path. Choose wisely, and again, trust in yourself. No matter where your choices take you, remember that it is all right to change your definition of success. As long as you are happy with your choices, you will succeed.