I’m astounded at the level of learning my second grader is experiencing. I don’t remember reading chapter books in second grade. I barely remember knowing my ABC’s. I certainly didn’t know how to calculate complicated word problems with the inexplicable American coin system, and I sure as hell wasn’t doing multiplication.

So I’m impressed.

As my second grader grows every more independent (read: irascibly defiant), I constantly think, “Was I this way in second grade at age seven?”

And then I remember: I have very little recollection of second grade, because for me, second grade was dealing with a father who was at death’s door from his long-suffering cancer and a mother who was loving but tremendously distracted, as well. And after my father’s death in November of second grade, the rest of the year was dealing with being “Gavin, the kid whose dad died, this year.”

That’s quite a realization I’m trying to absorb.

Every single time I say the two words, “second grade” I’m transported to a year of sickness, accidents, falling, crying, emptiness, and just wanting it all to be over.

I’ve already hit the mark where I lived longer than my father’s stunningly short 38 years. That was a big deal.

But now?- to watch my child reach the age I was when life changed so drastically for me? That’s a whole different can of worms.

My second grader has embraced the word “No” in stunningly admirable ways: looking me dead in the eye and saying, “No” in response to bedtime, wearing jackets in January, and apologizing for hitting the little brother.

The other day, her little brother was stepped on by nothing less than a ski bootand she said, “I don’t care.”

I’ve stopped dead in my tracks several times as I ponder, “WTF did you just say to me?”

And I realize more and more that my threats of taking away privileges or screen time or whatever punishment that once held such sway are having less and less effect.

Meanwhile, when I was that age, I was helping my mom lift my 250 pound father from the floor after a cancer-caused fall; I was asking questions about how we’d pay for food when my bread-winning father passed; I rode in the back seat on countless trips to the doctor across town, avoided eye contact when my dad dissolved into tears at the dinner table, and generally hold my head down to avoid whatever latest thing would be broken or emotion rattled thanks to the horrid ravages of cancer.

None of this ever leads me to say to my child, “You don’t realize how good you have it,” trust me. But it all gives me pause.

I’m coming out of my negative association with the term “second grade” and slowly seeing what a magical year it is for educational development and for my kid’s personal development. I’m liking it more and more.

And being able to recognize my internal recoil when I say “second grade” is enough to acknowledge and move on.

Crazy what my younger self experience, crazy what my father experienced, but now I’m focusing on how crazy it is what my child is experiencing. That’s the here and now. Feels good to be there with her.