My son, I’ll call him Surly, since that’s what he’s been the past week or so, graduated from preschool last night. Yes, that’s right. Preschool. Graduation. Replete with a ceremony, caps, and gowns. And tassels. Let’s not forget the tassels, because they cost $9 if you wanted to keep them. And of course every kid wants to keep their tassel, right?
They didn’t do this when I was kid. Back then, you got one graduation, when you finished high school. And then another, if you finished college. And if you went on to graduate school, well, by then you were so sick and tired of sitting through graduation ceremonies that you didn’t even bother to attend yours. That’s what I did, anyway, I had them send me my diploma in the mail.
But now, apparently, the graduation ceremonies stack up something like this: Preschool, Kindergarten, 5th grade, 8th grade, 12th grade, college. Even college graduations have changed over the years. It used to be one huge ceremony, everyone together, and it took 4 hours or more. But now it seems that colleges and universities trend toward multiple graduations based upon majors. Smaller ceremonies are held for the History department, those majoring in English, sociology, nursing, etc… My friend’s daughter just graduated from college a few weeks ago with a double major. She had to hone her running skills, especially her speed and endurance, to get across the sprawling university campus once one ceremony ended, in order to attend the other. I’m happy to report that she made it in the nick of time.
But let’s get back to that preschool graduation, shall we? The ceremony was… cute. Each child marched out in their graduation garb, climbed a small stage and took hold of a microphone to recite why they love their mommy and daddy. Most of the responses were similar, and evoked lots of “Aws!” from the audience: “I love my mommy and daddy because they take care of me”. “I love my mommy and daddy because they are nice to me”. “I love my mommy and daddy because they love me”. Those were the unsurly children (yes, I know “unsurly” is not a real word).
Then came a few, for lack of a better term, “material” kids: “I love my mommy and daddy because they buy me things.” Their speeches got more specific: “I love my mommy and daddy because they buy me TOYS”. And then, the child who might have been urged to behave with a bit of bribery: “I love my mommy and daddy because they agreed to buy me The Shrek Game!”
One little girl appeared to be a natural at public speaking. She took the stage with the presence of an international leader, gripped the microphone in both hands, looked the audience in the eyes, confidently announced why she loved her parents, then paused to get the audience’s reaction before stepping down. “Follow me,” she seemed to say to her classmates. “THAT’S how it’s done, now. Got it?” she seemed to imply.
Another little boy reminded me a bit of Cindy Brady, that time she appeared on a television quiz show but became camera shy and mute when the red recording light turned on. (Remember her ego? Remember how big her head got in that episode? Good, picture that! You’ll need the image later.) Anyway, the little boy climbed the stage with giant strides of confidence and smile so bright it rivaled the sun. He tapped the microphone a few times. He opened his mouth in what was sure to be the start of a big pronouncement. I mean, he’d checked to be sure the microphone was working, after all! But no words came out. He closed his mouth. Opened it. Again, nothing. And once more, while the audience, full of parents and grandparents, siblings and cousins, waited in anticipation; patient; now eager. Some even holding their breath, not wanting to miss a single word he was about to say. But he couldn’t muster a single syllable, not a solitary utterance. He stepped down, smiling still, and took his seat among his classmates. The audience, naturally, applauded. And a congratulatory cake was still served in the end, just like it was in The Brady Bunch.
Then came my son’s turn to speak. His cap was askew, falling from his head, slipping too far forward and too far back. At one point he even cried out in the middle of the ceremony, “Miss JESSICA! My hat!” It simply didn’t fit very well; it was too small for him. Had his head grown suddenly? He climbed the stage. He took the microphone in hand and enunciated “I love my mommy and daddy because they play with me SOMETIMES!” Sometimes?!? What does that mean? I wondered?“Sometimes?!!” My husband asked, aloud, indignant. “Sometimes???” My mother-in-law leaned over, and questioned in my ear. “Sometimes?!?” I could hear the other parents and grandparents thinking, eyebrows arched, dark and curious looks shooting my way.
The music started then, at first a low hum. Were the other parents HUMMING? It got gradually louder; it was all I could hear. I almost started singing along:
My son turned ten just the other day.
He said, “Thanks for the ball, dad, come on let’s play.
Can you teach me to throw?” I said, “Not today,
I got a lot to do.” He said, “That’s ok…”
until I realized that Harry Chapin’s famous song was playing only in my head, and another child had taken the stage.
This morning I couldn’t help it. I needed clarification. I needed to understand. I looked “sometimes” up in the dictionary. It means “on some occasions; being so only at times or to some extent”; and the most damning “that cannot be depended on regarding affections or loyalties.” The last one bothered me. A lot. And that song was playing again. So I decided to go right to the horse’s mouth. I asked my son, “Last night at graduation you said “I love my mommy and daddy because we play with you sometimes. What did you mean, sometimes?” and he said “I mean they play with me a lot, if they can, if I want them to.” “Ah ha!” I thought, hints of Surly resurfacing, that “If I want them to…” Because I think that’s key here. Surly has been plain, well, SURLY the past week. Asking us to play with him, then 10 seconds later telling us “never mind, go away, get out, leave him alone, he doesn’t WANT to play.” He was happy when he saw the graduation cake I’d made him and even happier when I let him eat a piece before dinner, before graduation itself. But just as quickly he was ill-tempered, frowning, complaining that I “hadn’t given him a graduation card, or a present!”. I reminded him of the slip-n-slide “Splash Bomb” pool I’d gotten him two weeks prior, an “early” graduation gift. But Surly said “You can’t just get ONE present for your graduation!” I explained how I’d lovingly prepared his favorite meal for him, made him a special cake (which by the way he dubbed “THE BEST CAKE EVER”), and those were part of his present too. Still, he remained surly on the drive to the ceremony. I told him that maybe he should be quiet for a little while, and learn to appreciate what he has, not complain about what he doesn’t have. Surly crossed his arms over his chest and rode the rest of the way, scowling, shooting dirty looks at the back of my head. Later, of course, when he was standing on stage and looking so adorable and grown up and happy, I felt bad that I’d let him push my buttons, that I’d been cross with him.
This morning, Surly (after he’d explained what he meant by “sometimes”) was looking at the photos I’d taken during the graduation. Upon seeing a photo of himself with his best friend (and love of his life), Sydney, he said, “Sydney! Why is Sydney so popular? Actually, I’m popular too! Me and Sydney are like the most popular kids at school!” And that’s where Cindy Brady’s ego comes back into play. Remember how big her ego was? How big her head got? I think that’s why my son’s graduation cap had gotten too small for him. This surly ego, like that cap, doesn’t fit him either. Still, he graduated!