May 15, 2021

Van Nostrand: Making those big decisions

We’ve all probably heard the saying things happen for a reason. But we probably don’t fully grasp that concept until after it actually happens to us.

I am no different.

My last job was eliminated as the COVID-19 pandemic was spreading faster and harder and over more areas late last spring. I became a statistic as one of the tens of millions looking for work. My wife told me to appreciate some of the time off while looking for the next thing to do as I had been working for the previous 27 years.

But being the stereotypical father and husband, it was hard to adjust. I still wanted to do something.

I was willing to try another career and industry as newspapers are the only thing I’ve done during my working adult years. I still wanted to contribute and provide to the family. No one was willing to give me the chance as I really didn’t get into applications and interviews until late summer and early fall.

The timing for my unemployment was tense as both of my children were preparing for their senior year in high school; the year virtually every student looks forward. After I told them what happened to me and the job loss, they feared another move (our last move was the summer before their fourth-grade year). I told them I won’t move them as it would be cruel and harsh to uproot them after eight years of building friendships during their most impressionable years. I didn’t want the change in my life to force their lives to change.

But I still had to find something.

Over the next months I found some things I wasn’t directly intentionally looking for. I watched my kids make the decisions about their lives and futures.

Typical with the senior year, our children were thinking about their life after high school. Son Grant had already chosen to attend Southwestern Community College. We had first toured it in February 2020. He was convinced he wanted to go there, but just wasn’t sure what he wanted to study. Daughter Kari was more uncertain from what to major in and where to attend. She first started her search about the same time Grant started his. Kari’s search picked up speed when this school year started.

Early in the school year, we visited Midland University in Fremont, Nebraska, and Missouri Western in St. Joseph, Missouri. Her major interests were narrowed down to a few choices. She just wanted to find the right place for her to pursue those. If I had been working at the time, it’s possible I may not have had the time to accompany her on those trips and learn more about what she wants to do. Those conversations could have been held in an abbreviated manner over the dinner table, if I would have been working. But watching her engage and respond to the tour guides, professors and school finance administrators, I got a much more in-depth lesson.

Knowing her sports-fan like attitude toward Disney movies and animation, we took two trips to visit Grasshorse Studios, an animation company, in tiny Winfield. The next trip was to Southeastern Community College in Burlington and Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, as both have animation programs. Realizing the technical work behind creating Mickey Mouse is technical, in-front-of-a-computer-screen-all-day, time-consuming studies, she knew it would eventually collide with her out-going, extroverted persona. Again, things I may not have witnessed in her if I was working full time and not had the time to attend.

As the daytime temperatures dropped transitioning to winter, my kid’s college interests became more in focus. Son Grant has detailed cars for a couple of years and we ventured a long day trip to a Chemical Guys store in Springfield, Missouri. That’s his favorite brand of cleaner. That made him start thinking more of auto-body repair than auto mechanics. He shared a lot of thoughts with me that trip. Again, if we didn’t go, I wouldn’t have known.

While college basketball fans were filling out their tournament bracket, Kari was asking about financial related forms at Midland. She switched to secondary education with an emphasis in speech and theater, another interest of hers that was referred to during prior campus visits. She has the confidence and competence when equipped with a microphone on stage. Kari has had parts in school plays and contributed to individual and large-group speech. She will be at the same National FFA Convention later this year with Creston High’s Tucker Rohrig. Kari qualified in extemporaneous speaking.

Part of Clarinda High seniors’ year is an internship at a local business. Grant has spent some of the second semester at an auto body shop in Clarinda. The experience has been a good one for him as he helped paint a new body part. He even used his car as part of his learning. He was in a minor fender bender earlier this year and the shop showed how that kind of damage can be repaired. His car looks better but it’s not perfect. He was just thrilled about the lesson.

Getting back to work for me couldn’t have happened at a better time. The kids have spent their senior year like they would have if I would have been working. As stated earlier, I didn’t want the change in my life to change their lives. Unemployment brings its own worries and uncertainties. I didn’t want to be overwhelmed by looking for work, so I attempted to find the right, timely distractions. Watching and helping my kids with their plans for their future fit the bill.

We are in the downhill stretch as graduation is two weeks away. Then a summer of expected chaos as we plan to move to Creston before we send Kari off to Midland. They will start their lessons about parts of speech and taillight assemblies. I can’t thank them enough for what they taught me about themselves.


An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.