D. None of the above

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

I like to play Google games, just to see how many results I can get on certain search terms. I know I’ve come up with something incredibly specific when the list is 100 or fewer.

Now, to play my game, I sometimes use quotes to increase the specificity of a particular search. For example, I might be interested in hamburgers or “hamburger helper.” The former brought up 481 million in a recent search and the latter, as you might have guessed, was much lower, at 1.3 million. Please know that the figures I am quoting are never static.

Given the highly public nature of the 45th president, Donald Trump (R), I thought I’d check to see how a man who was once a TV personality did on Google. And, from what I can tell, he is winning the search war.

The words “Donald Trump” netted 520 million results. For someone who appears to enjoy the spotlight, even when people are raging against him, that number is impressive. That’s well above the 141 million for Mickey Mouse and the 60 million for our first president, George Washington. Granted, he has been dead for almost 220 years and Mickey is an animated creature. It is, however, below the 633 million for Brexit.

OK, so let’s compare Trump to, say, the 44th president. While President Barack Obama (D) did better than Washington, he didn’t climb as high as Mickey, getting 109 million results. He was, however, twice as popular in the search engine as his immediate predecessor, President George W. Bush, whose name, complete with the “W.,” brought 54.6 million hits. Ah, but then “Dubya,” as he was called, was higher than President Bill Clinton (D), who netted only 33.8 million results.

So, what does this mean? Maybe it suggests that presidents are on a Google escalator and that the modern reality is that the internet has become the way people search for news about the men who have led our country. The 2020 winner likely stands to become an internet search winner, too.

Assuming that the Google popularity contest is relevant, what does it say about the Democratic presidential candidates? Well, a front-runner and former Vice President Joe Biden brought 107 million results. As an aside, that’s well above the 37.5 million results from the person who holds the office of vice president today, Mike Pence (R).

Back to the Democratic candidates. Elizabeth Warren stands at 47.1 million. That beats Pence, but she’s not running for vice president, at least not yet. Whoops, bad Dan. Bernie Sanders, who ran an impressive campaign in 2016, brings up 70.2 million results, which is much higher than Warren, despite her impressive political career. Kamala Harris has 18.5 million results, with others, like Cory Booker, at 5.6 million.

But, wait, is this a popularity contest? Well, yes and no, right? These candidates need sufficient visibility to attract votes. People also need to be interested in them, right? Does former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s 90.9 million results mean she’s more visible than some of the people running for president? No, it’s a reflection of her close run for the highest office in the land in 2016. That is pretty impressive for someone who wasn’t elected, but is well below singer Taylor Swift’s 415 million.

Perhaps the president in 2020, whether it be the incumbent or a challenger, will immediately see a spike in results, as people around the world type in his or her name each day to find the latest news related to the country and to his or her policies.

As an aside, I couldn’t help wondering how often the current president mocks someone or something. The term “Trump mocks” brought up 747,000 results. By comparison, “Biden mocks” only had 14,700 results. Then again, “Trump applauds” had 82,500 results, compared with “Biden applauds,” which had 3,090. No wonder Trump fatigue has set in for some people: He’s everywhere on the internet.

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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

I speak with a police officer near my son’s school regularly. She steps into four lanes of frantic morning commuting traffic to allow people to maneuver into and out of a school parking lot.

She offers a pleasant, “Good morning,” to people who roll down their windows or who walk past her. As she steps carefully into a heavily trafficked street, she makes eye contact with drivers.

She waves to the waiting parents to make their turns and rejoin the flow of traffic to work or to their next morning destination. She sends them off from school with a pleasant, “Have a great day,” as they drive around her.

Recently, I pulled up to the stop sign and saw the officer holding her stomach.

“What’s happening?” I asked.

“I just can’t stop laughing,” she said. “I see the same crazies every day. I’m used to them. There’s this guy who drives a pickup truck and he cusses at me every time he passes. I’m not sure why.”

“Is that funny?” I asked.

“No, today, a woman looked right at me, clapped, gave me the thumbs up and raised her fist. She seemed so happy that I was here.”

“That’s great,” I said.

“Yeah, she made my day,” the officer said, again holding her stomach. “That was just
so funny.”

This police officer spends her day looking in car windows, hoping people stop instead of running her over or creating traffic hazards for children or their parents near schools. And yet, this driver made her happy by sharing an effusive and appreciative series of simple gestures.

The movements the woman made are the kinds of displays superstar athletes see every time they step on a sports field or tennis court. These expressions of appreciation, gratitude and admiration are so common that many of the players block out the sounds so they can focus on the game.

But for this officer, the show of support was a welcome sight.

A day before, a friend told me that he and his daughter pulled into a parking lot, where a parking attendant asked for $3. When he handed out the money, his daughter leaned across him and thanked the attendant.

The attendant smiled and directed them to a spot nearby.

“What are you thanking him for?” my friend asked. “What did he do?”

“He’s doing his job and I appreciate it,” his daughter said. “Why can’t you appreciate it?”

“He’s taking my money,” the friend reasoned. 

“Yes, and you’re getting a place to park,” she said.

My friend recognized the value of the words. Besides, even if it didn’t make the attendant’s day, it didn’t cost anything and it may have helped the car park collector feel like someone cared that a good job was being done.

In that same vein, I’d like to thank you for reading this column today and any other time you take the time to read it. I know you could be doing numerous other tasks and I appreciate the opportunity to share words, thoughts or experiences with you. 

I realize you don’t always agree with me. Maybe climate change isn’t top of your mind or you have perfect children who never once frustrate and amuse you, or your dog is so well trained that it never jumps up on anyone or consumes a plate full of warm cookies. But I appreciate the chance to connect with you.

Maybe today, tomorrow or next week, you can also pass along an appreciative gesture. Who knows? You might make the day of a police officer, a baker, a mail carrier or a dog walker.

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Daniel Dunaief

We think we know our kids, but really the converse is true.

My son recently told me that he thinks I’m angry every time I swim laps in a pool. At first, I dismissed the observation because swimming brings me peace.

And then I thought about my junior year of high school, when I joined my one and only swim team.

I loved the water, I had a few friends on the team and I was determined to do something different when each day in school felt like a bad version of “Groundhog Day,” long before the Bill Murray film arrived in theaters.

I had several shortcomings. For starters, I didn’t know how to do a flip turn. To the experienced swimmer, that’s as laughable as asking a NASCAR driver how to change gears or a baseball player which end of the bat to hold. It’s a basic skill. I’d approach the wall, gasping for air, roll to my right and kick hard.

Most of the time, I’d slam my foot into the lane marker and, on occasion would kick the poor swimmer in lane 5. I swam in lane 6, which was where swimmers who needed life jackets trained. The best swimmers occupied lane 1. They never seemed to need a breath, had hydrodynamic bodies that made them look like torpedoes and seemed slightly bored after an exhausting practice.

Oh, and they also wore Speedo bathing suits well. For someone accustomed to the boxing trunk bathing suits that I still wear today, Speedos seemed way too small. Besides, I’m not sure the small, colorful lightweight suits allowed me to shave even a tenth of a second off my barge-floating-downstream speed.

Each practice, the coach would tell us to swim 20 laps back and forth as a warm-up. By the end of the warm-up, which I never finished, we started practice. At that point, I was leaning hard on the wall, wondering whether I should climb out of the pool and grab some French fries.

When we dove off the blocks at the start of the race, I must have entered the water at the wrong angle. My goggles scraped down my nose and landed in front of my mouth, which made it impossible to see or breathe. Flopping blindly, I’d zigzag in slow motion across the pool.

Each practice completely drained me. My exhausted arms pulled through the water, splashing where others were gliding. My legs slapped at the water, instead of serving as propellers. And yet, something about the incredible energy required to survive each practice helped me, both mentally and physically.

I’m sure I lost weight. After all, such inefficient swimming burns off considerably more calories than floating effortlessly hither and yon. More importantly, though, I worked out everything that bothered me in my head as I listened to the gurgling noises my mouth made while I wiggled back and forth. Each lap, I replayed conversations that went awry, standardized tests that were like electroshock therapy and the missed social opportunities.

Gnashing my teeth, I worked out frustrations that built up during the day or the week. The herculean effort either removed toxins or prevented them from cluttering my brain. Sitting in my room at home after practice, I felt more at peace than I had at any point during the day.

But what my son must have perceived as I do laps today are the habits I formed during that winter season. My body instantly remembers how to use swimming to release tension. He may see the residual physical manifestations of the cauldron of emotions that I carried back and forth across that icy pool. And, hey, maybe I’d look like a happier swimmer if I ever learned how to do a flip turn.

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Long Island residents bear a tremendous tax burden. So, when the editorial staff at TBR News Media report low voter turnouts for local elections, we are constantly puzzled. Why are people not voting?

A recent example is the Sept. 10 special election in the Setauket Fire District where commissioners were looking for the go-ahead to buy four new pumper trucks. While the vote wasn’t one that would immediately result in higher taxes like a bond vote, the district was still looking for the community’s approval to spend approximately $2.5 million. The vote was a meager 85-65 for the new trucks. With over 11,000 voting age residents in the fire district, where was everybody that Tuesday?

In comparison, on Sept. 18, Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket saw 416 residents approve its budget and 61 voting “no.” While not a huge turnout, more people showed up to cast their votes.

Looking at board of education votes in North Shore communities, the turnouts seem only marginally higher. Considering school budgets can be a big hit to taxes, why do so many people miss out on casting their votes?

In 2019, for example, the Miller Place School District proposed a $74 million budget, an $1.2 million increase from the previous year. Only 783 residents turned out to vote. The hamlet may be small compared to other districts in our area, but according to the 2010 census, more than 12,000 people live there. Again, where was everyone?

When it comes to elections, whether for a fire or school district or library, entities are required by law to post legal notices in their local newspapers, which they do. And while they are not legally obligated to, many send out letters and include information in their newsletters and on their websites, and spread the word through social media. Plus, many school districts and libraries hold events to go over budgets with the community, though the meetings tend to be not well-attended by residents. The current system and practices seem inadequate.

It may be time for elected officials to look into the possibility of combining all such votes on one day, either in November or on primary day. If that’s not possible, due to fire district boundaries being different to those of school districts, then maybe legislators can set up funds to help fire districts, schools and libraries cover costs to better advertise elections. With the most recent Setauket Fire District vote, no letters were sent out, due to cost.

Under the current arrangement, entities have more incentive not to promote elections, since low voter turnout often means a proposal is more likely to be approved by the few people in the know.

Perhaps it’s time to institute a requirement: A certain percentage of residents must vote before a referendum can become official.

But the onus must also fall on the electorate as well as the government entities organizing an election.

So, in the meantime: Vote! It’s the only way to be sure your voice is heard.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Evidence of my own failure sits in plain sight on my desk. I believe in recycling, in saving the planet, in doing what’s right for me, my children and for future generations.

I readily agree that using one-time plastic pollutes the world and kills marine creatures. And yet, here, sitting on my desk, are two plastic water bottles from one-time-use plastics.

I will, of course, recycle them, but that’s not the point. Why can’t I walk the walk if I talk the talk? It’s not enough to believe in something or to nod in agreement as I read articles about conserving ecosystems, protecting biodiversity and reducing our — no, my — carbon footprint. I could and should do something about it. For example, I should use, clean and reuse the same cup, cutting back on waste.

I speak with people regularly about conservation when I write the Power of Three column for TBR News Media. Often, I ask in the context of their findings about climate change, the atmosphere or biodiversity, what kind of car they drive or how they live their lives. Interviewees sometimes chuckle anxiously, share their concerns about flying to research meetings, and sigh that they should do more. Well, maybe the better way to describe it is they should live differently.

We all think good thoughts, but those thoughts alone don’t change the world. The environment isn’t self-cleaning, the planet has limited space and finite resources, and we should look closely in the mirror at our own decisions and actions.

I read about 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who came to the United Nations and delivered an impassioned speech, challenging leaders to do more and to protect the world for her generation. The teen’s words spoke volumes, as she demanded accountability and passed judgment, from the younger generation on up, for the failings of all of us who haven’t heeded the warnings.

Despite her young age, she has walked the walk. She traveled by boat to the United Nations in New York aboard a zero-emission yacht because she refuses to use a mode of transportation — flying — that emits carbon dioxide. She also went to Davos, Switzerland, for 32 hours aboard a train, again limiting her contribution to fossil fuel emissions. Each of those options might not be practical for many people, but they show her commitment and passion.

We live with a predicament: We see and acknowledge what we believe are our principles, and then we take actions that at times conflict with those beliefs.

That extends beyond the world of climate change and conservation. We often have a chance to see the disconnect between what we say and what we do when our children — or someone else’s children — point them out to us. We don’t want our children texting while they’re driving and yet they sit next to us or in the backseat and see us connecting through our phones with work colleagues or with people waiting to meet us for dinner.

It is also why any kind of poll isn’t completely accurate. We might say one thing, but do the opposite for a host of reasons, including not wanting to tell a cheerful stranger on the other end of the phone what we intend to do.

We recognize the importance of supporting ideas. The challenge, however, comes when we have the chance to choose between the easier option — a plastic bottle of cold water — or the one that supports our beliefs.

When we see our failures of principle, the question is: What are we going to do about it?

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Dogs are incredibly stupid. OK, now that I’ve got your attention, I realize that not all dogs lack intelligence. Lassie and Balto both saved the day.

I suspect many dogs, like mine who is now 1 year old, are only as smart as their training.

And they need something almost as often as a young child. What’s the matter, boy? You need to go out? Why are you barking, buddy? Do you see a squirrel? Is the neighbor out watering the grass again? That’s OK, you don’t need to bark at him every time he takes out the hose.

Recently, my wife made chocolate chip cookies. She says that we make them together, but my only job is to put them in the oven, wait for them to rise a bit, make sure the edges are cooked and then allow them to finish baking while they cool on the hot tray. She’s the master chef and I am the cookie flash fryer.

Anyway, the house was starting to develop that wonderful baked goods smell. My wife, son and I were eagerly awaiting the moment when I could bring the hot plate to the master bed, where we could make “mmm” noises at each other as we talked about the day and compared this batch to the ones we had a few months ago, as if we were reviewers on a cooking show.

The young dog has gotten used to the routine. He stands in the kitchen with his ears pitched forward, waiting for his best friend gravity to deliver something to him on the floor, which is, generally, his domain. He follows us back and forth to get the ingredients from the pantry and then to bring those ingredients back.

At 85 pounds, he is a large dog and his eye level has gotten closer to the mixer and the ingredients. We try to push everything to the middle of the island in the kitchen.

After doling out the hot cookies onto a plate into the shape of an edible pyramid, I left the room for a moment. When I returned, I shouted in astonishment. The dog had his front legs on the high counter and was reaching his long neck, tongue and head as far as he could. He had devoured half the plate.

After admonishing him for eating food that wasn’t his and that was dangerous, I locked him in a room without carpets and called the vet, who asked if I could give an exact number of chips he ate. Of course I couldn’t, which meant I had to bring him in, where the vet would empty the chocolate the dog had stolen.

My wife joined me for our evening adventure. After a few moments, the vet brought our surprisingly happy dog to us in a waiting room and told us he’d also eaten some plastic and a bottle cap. She allayed my embarrassment by telling me that her colleague’s dog — she’s a vet, remember — has had five operations because of the nonfood he’s swallowed that has blocked his system. Her colleague’s dog now wears a satellite dish around his head. While the reception is terrible, he doesn’t need emergency procedures anymore.

For all the frustration, the cleaning, the shedding, the wet dog smell, our dog is more than happy to have me, my family member, or the neighbor on the left with the garden hose or on the right with a howling dog, run hands through his wonderfully soft fur. He may not be the smartest or easiest dog on the block, but he is ours and we do get some perks here and there, in between rescuing half chewed flip-flops and slippers.

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

There’s just far too much going on personally and professionally to contain it within a singularly focused column. Strap yourselves in, because here we go.

For starters, how awesome is the start of the school year? Kids grumble, shuffle their feet, roll their eyes and sigh. But, come on. It’s a clean slate. It’s a chance to learn new material, make new friends and start anew with teachers who didn’t wonder what was wrong with you when your eyes were almost closed during the days before you got sick. It’s also a chance for parents to breathe a sigh of relief as the chaotic house, which was filled with friends coming and going throughout the summer, establishes a predictable routine.

I spoke with a high school senior recently who was absolutely thrilled with the start of her final year of school. Not only does she want to get her grade point average up, which she was doing with a high average in her weakest subject, but she was also incredibly enthusiastic about the opportunity to apply to her favorite college. Her energy and enthusiasm were
infectious.

Keep up: Here comes another topic. The other day, after I dropped my son off at school, I passed a father who put me and so many other parents to shame. He was pushing a fully loaded double stroller with two children who were between 2 and 4 years old. Anyone who has had to push a double stroller with bigger children knows how heavy that bus on wheels can get. He also sported a younger child in a BabyBjörn carrier. That’s not where it ended. While he was pushing and carrying three children, he was walking an enormous dog. Given the size of the dog, I wondered if he was tempted to strap a saddle on the animal and put one of the kids on top of him. Yes, I know that wouldn’t actually work, but it would distribute all that child weight more evenly and would give “man’s best friend” a job to do, other than getting rid of waste products on other people’s lawns.

Speaking of dogs, yes, my family now has a dog. He’s wonderful, soft and fluffy and is also an enormous pain in the buttocks. He has two modes of walking: He either pulls me really hard — he weighs more than 80 pounds — or he completely stops, pushing his snout into grass that he tries to eat and which upsets his stomach. Look, doggie dog, I know I can’t eat dairy because of the enormous negative consequences. Does it occur to you that eating grass, dirt, plastic foam cups and pencils is bad for your digestion? Of course not because the only cause and effect you care about relates to what goes in your mouth.

So, last weekend we went to a baseball tournament for our son. The day after the tournament, the coach sent a pointed note to the parents, reminding us to contact him if we had a problem or question, rather than going straight to management. In case you were wondering, I don’t miss coaching.

Then there’s National Security Advisor John Bolton. So, he gets fired for being a hawk? Who knew he was a hawk? Oh, wait, just about the whole world. So, that begs the question: If his hawkish views weren’t welcome or wanted, why was he hired in the first place?

One more question: When did the weather or hurricane warnings become political?

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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

You know that summer camp game where two or more teams line up with a spoon? The objective is to carry a tablespoon of water across a small lawn to the other side, dump whatever you can keep on the spoon into the cup on the other side, and race back with the spoon so that the next person can bring as much water as quickly as possible to your cup.

For me, parenting is about battling the urge to sprint at top speed, hoping that there’s at least some water to dump into the cup on the other side.

I had one of those moments when I wanted to share all the right pieces of advice for our daughter as we drove her to college. Would she even hear the pearls of wisdom I was trying not to drop from the spoon?

My first thought was to tell her that, “You get out of it what you put into it.” Of course everyone who passes the requisite classes gets a degree. What differentiates one set of experiences from another is the amount of energy, effort and dedication from the student. I scratched that one off the list because she’d heard it too many times before. If that lesson were going to make it into the cup, it had plenty of time to do so.

Then, it occurred to me to tell her to study smarter and harder, in that order. I wanted her to put in genuine effort — see the previous piece of unspoken advice — but I also felt that she needed to focus her efforts on specific chapters or concepts. Exams don’t tend to demand total recall of every word on every page in a textbook. Try to figure out, perhaps with some help from upper-class people or your resident adviser, what are the most important ideas for each class.

I considered telling her to appreciate and learn from her mistakes. I had suggested that homily in her academic life, on an athletic field and in her social interactions. I couldn’t possibly say that on the ride to college because her response, at best, would be some version of, “Daaaaaaaddd!” No, clearly, telling her to learn from her mistakes would be a mistake.

Maybe, just as I contemplated another recommendation, the clear skies on the drive ahead were a sign that I was on the right track. I wanted to tell her to get to know her professors, regardless of the size of the class. In fact, the larger the class, the greater the need to walk up to her teachers, introduce herself and express an eagerness to learn about a subject this person had spent a professional career teaching.

Maybe I should also tell her not to fall behind. Catching up becomes a regular struggle when the professor has moved away from the lessons you’re trying to process and commit to memory.

By the time we arrived at school, I hadn’t shared any of those words of wisdom or fortune cookie advice, depending on your perspective, because our daughter slept during much of the car ride. Carrying boxes, bins and bags up the stairs became the primary focus, as did trying not to sweat too profusely over everything I was lugging into her room.

As she was scrambling to figure out how to attach pictures of her friends to a wall, it was clear the timing wasn’t ideal to offer advice. Maybe it’s best this way: She’s now reached an age and a stage in life when she’s got to figure out how to fill her own cup with water.

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

You know Murphy’s law, right? Whatever can go wrong will go wrong. Well, it seems that we need to update Murphy’s law. To that end, please find a few of my experiential and observational corollaries.

• Your kids know more about electronics than you do. Yes, I know there are information technology people who are keeping up with the latest apps, some of whom may actually write the apps. But most of those people stop using their phones or looking at their work when they go home. Your kids are using them all the time. They are professional app users, while you likely know one app extremely well.

• You will receive a message from your airline when it doesn’t help. I appreciate how airlines, and even Expedia, offer to send you updates on your flights. Most of the time, however, the text that the plane is delayed two hours will arrive just after the car that’s brought you to the airport pulls away from the curb.

• Following the rules at the doctor’s office, the DMV or anywhere else you might be a captive audience rarely works. I recently went to a doctor’s office half an hour early because the email requested that I arrive then for my first appointment. I waited more than an hour for a consultation that lasted a few minutes.

• You’re likely to leave out a critical word at a critical time in a critical email. Let’s say someone proposes an idea at work that you find wholly objectionable and unworkable. You respond: “I can agree with this idea.” Forgetting the word “not” then means that your boss, who proposed the idea in the first place, now gives you ownership of a process that is even worse than it seemed when you first read the email through your sleep-deprived eyes.

• The cute baby that made you smile in the airport or the bus station will be sitting behind you for hours. In the few moments when he’s not screaming, he’s kicking your chair right behind your head, rendering the noise cancellation headphones you bought utterly useless.

• In the world of TMI (too much information), you’re likely to hear something that makes you wish you had a plastic bubble. Someone near you on a subway will be talking to his friend on the phone about a strange rash that’s spreading everywhere while coughing violently into the air.

• The cable or appliance repair person who gave you a four-hour window when he might arrive at your house will come at the beginning of the window, the end of the window or in those three minutes you stepped out to get a cup of coffee just down the street. When you return to find the note indicating how sorry he was that he missed you, you have an adult tantrum which terrifies the neighbors and their kids, who will no longer come to your house during Halloween.

• Complaining about the performance of an athlete who never seems to live up to his or her potential means that athlete will do something incredible within moments of your most vocal complaint. That will be the case unless you’re complaining because you secretly believe that will lead to a winning effort. In that case, the athlete will meet your low expectations.

• The year you move to a place where you’re assured there are no hurricanes, you watch the familiar sight of wind tearing through your backyard, as a hurricane fells trees you have owned for all of two weeks. Ah, cypress tree, we hardly knew you.

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Am I going to cry? That’s the question I get so often when I talk to other parents who, like me, are about to send their first child off to college.

I’m sure I’ll be more reflective than teary-eyed. I’ll probably think about expected and unanticipated milestones. Like a montage or a video, pictures and memories of my daughter at various ages will pass through my head.

I keep thinking about her fourth birthday. The night before her party, she could barely sleep. She came into our room several times to ask if it was time to get up yet. I told her to look out the window, past the streetlights of Manhattan, into the sky, where it was pitch dark. When it was lighter, she could get up and start preparing for the party.

As soon as we got to Jodi’s Gym, which was a wonderful padded room filled with age-appropriate apparatuses, my daughter raced around the room. The party planner asked us to wait in the entrance so we could greet her guests. While we were waiting, I chased her around the table, listening to the wonderful, happy screeches that came each time I either caught up to her or got close to her.

“You know,” the party planner said, “you might want to save some energy for the party.”

My daughter smiled at me, shook her head and ran away, expecting me to follow her. I continued to play the pre-party game, even as the party planner shrugged. After everyone arrived, my daughter led the way on every piece of equipment, delighted that she had the chance to run, jump and scream without waking Maryann and Frank, who lived beneath us in our apartment. Even though she can’t picture Maryann and Frank today, she knows that those were the names we used whenever she got too loud early in the morning or late at night.

I also think about how enchanted my daughter was by her first grade teacher. Mrs. Finkel delighted her students and their parents with her soft voice, her ability to focus on each student individually and the class as a whole at the same time, and her control of the classroom. While Mrs. Finkel died incredibly young after a short battle with cancer, I know her legacy lives on with the students who are preparing for college and with her husband and daughter.

I am also recalling the many moments when a book captivated my daughter’s attention, causing her to read late into the night; when she caught blue claw crabs at a dock; or when she played board games with her brother and cousins at my mother’s house during Thanksgiving.

Perhaps the most recurring memory, however, goes back to when she was learning to ride a bicycle. I pushed the bike for several seconds, let go, and watched her wobble unsteadily until she either fell or put her feet to the sides. Eventually, my back hurt so much that I couldn’t bend and run anymore.

“Let’s stop for now,” I gasped. “You don’t need to do it now. When you’re ready, you’ll do it.”

She paused and asked me to push her one more time. When I did, she slowly circled the parking lot and stopped, a triumphant smile plastered across her face. On the walk back home, I asked her how she was able to conquer the bike.

She told me she thought about how she wanted to be ready, so she did it.

While I probably won’t cry when I turn around and leave her at college, I will hope that she feels as ready as she did when she conquered her bike.