Too Much Pomp for the Circumstance

Please forgive my candor, but I’m a little miffed at all of you.  More than a little miffed, actually.  I’m experiencing an anger that falls somewhere between being shorted one McNugget in a six-pack, and being told by your doctor that you’ll need a “do-over” on that last colonoscopy because the nurse forgot to turn on the video recorder. Why?

My son graduated last week, and not a single one of you sent a gift.  Not even a card.  How could you be so thoughtless?  If you had seen him toiling away all these years months on macaroni art projects and hastily-drawn stick figures, you would see that the sacrifice and mental energy he has exhausted in the dogged pursuit of his preschool diploma are worth recognition.

That’s right.  I said preschool diploma.  Jake is five.  Allow me to refuel my sarcasm tank, as I’ve just depleted it in that two-paragraph rant.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good celebration as much as the next guy.  And I’ll admit to being the annoying father in the front row, snapping photos like a papparazi at the door of a celebrity rehab clinic.  I’m proud of my kids, love them dearly, and am happy to post saccharin-sweet photos of them in a vain attempt to make myself feel more attractive, as if I had something to do with their cuteness.  Still, a new phenomenon has me scratching my head.

* Jake (pictured here with Gracie - the love of his life) graduated Magna Cum "Loud"

When I was growing up, graduation was something that happened when you completed 12th grade.  You waited for it for years.  Then came that magical day when so many dreams were realized.  For the students, graduation signaled that you were now ready for the freedom of adulthood, be that college or the world of work.  For the parents, they could now legally kick you out of the house and make you fend for yourself, which, I now realize, is something they had dreamed of since the first night they brought you home from the hospital and you pooped immediately following the 3am diaper change.

Graduation was an accomplishment.

Over the past two weeks, Gabby and I have attended no fewer than four “graduations.” My two nieces graduated from junior high.  Other nieces and nephews graduated from fifth grade.  A neighbor graduated from first grade.  This is all fine and good, but I’m not sure I would call this an accomplishment.  In fact, if you don’t complete fifth grade, I believe your parents get thrown in prison.  It’s like giving a kid a medal for not getting struck by lightning.

* A photo taken by a friend in a mall parking lot.  When Makenzie graduates high school, I believe her parents are running an ad during the Super Bowl.

Granted, I think my kids are wicked smart, but to have an entire graduation ceremony for children that can’t even tie their own shoes seems a bit over-indulgent to me.  Heck, some even have trouble with the Velcro.  But at Jake’s preschool, they wore their special caps, were introduced by name, and received diplomas.  The double-bonus was a Bible embossed with their names.

One of the fifth grade graduations lasted longer than a feature-length film.  They even had a keynote speaker.  He made his message interactive and memorable.  He first asked the kids to clap.  Then he said, “Remember the word clap, because that’s the subject of my talk today.  C-L-A-P.  What do you think the ‘C’ stands for?” he asked.

“Character!” one kid yelled.

“That’s right,” he answered in a congratulatory tone.  “How about the letter ‘L?’”

After a few “L” words were called out, someone finally came up with “Leadership!”

“Right again!” he answered.  “And the ‘A?’”

“Excel!” called out one brave student.

“Not quite!” the speaker politely deflected, amid chuckles from the audience.

Mind you, this was at the “good” school in a strong district.  I don’t want to know what happens in the “bad” schools.  Still, each kid received a diploma, and I received a case of bleacher-induced scoliosis.

After the fifth grade ceremony, we went to the reception held in the school cafeteria.  There were four, long lunch tables completely covered in homemade cookies.  Yes, you read it right.  Roughly 150 square feet of cookies.  It was the most beautiful display of made-from-scratch goodness I have ever seen.  Girl Scouts would be jealous.  It made your church potluck dessert table look like a handful of petrified peppermint candies.

There were Red Velvet cookies.  Chocolate chunk.  Snickerdoodles.  Brownies covered in cream cheese icing and topped with a fresh strawberry.  Cookies that only exist in dreams.  Cookies that didn’t exist at my high school graduation.

Perhaps it was a feeble attempt to rewrite my own school experience, or better yet, to relive my childhood as a suburban kid in modern times.  Or maybe it was the scoliosis talking.  Whatever the case, I created a Mount Everest of cookies on my plate.  There were easily six or seven.  And I ate every last one.

Then I went back for seconds.

They had brought out some new varieties, so I sampled them all.  I knocked fifth graders out of the way.  I even stuffed my face while standing at the buffet table, which, after second thought, probably crossed the line of buffet etiquette.  But I didn’t care.  They invented sneeze guards for guys like me.

Then it got disgusting.  I went back to the table and ate all of the cookie fragments that Gabby and the kids failed to finish.  I realized I had crossed the line into full-on gluttony when I grabbed for half of a Rice Krispy Treat and Gabby swatted my hand away.

“Slow down!  I’m still working on that!”

“Sorry.  I had assumed that unless you were cramming your pie-hole with two hands, then you must not be eating.”

Then it happened.  It started as a mild cramp in my belly.  By the time we got to the car, it had morphed into a slight nausea.  When we rolled in the driveway, I started to sweat.  The cliché your mother warned you about is indeed true.  If you eat too many sweets, you’ll make yourself sick.

And the metaphor isn’t lost on me.

Praise and recognition is healthy in moderation.  Unfortunately, this whole graduation madness is a symptom of a much greater problem.  There is a culture of excess that comes with parenting today.  There are entire magazines devoted to parenting that make the child the center of the universe.  The pride of calling yourself a good dad or a fantastic mom is like a tiny mountain of ice bobbing in a sea of “ought to’s.”  But just below the surface is this giant iceberg of guilt that will sink the Titanic if you don’t provide for every want and need of your child.  It appears that we are all supposed to strive to give our kids a childhood that none of us had.

And it makes me throw up in my mouth a little.  But not because of the cookie binge.

My parents provided for me.  I had everything I needed but they knew better than to give me everything I wanted.  Instead, when other kids wore the hip Reebok High tops with the velcro ankle, I used a Mr. Sketch marker and some scrap paper to make my own Reebok label and taped it over the Fast-Baks logo of my knock-off sneakers.  I was 35 years old before I owned my first Atari gaming system.  And, if you’re a regular blog reader, you know my lust for Moon Boots was never satiated.

So here I am, asking.  No, BEGGING you to tell me I’m not going crazy.  I want to hear that there is value in sending kids to bed without dinner.  I want to know that it’s OK to deprive your children.  I want to believe that moments aren’t special because you label them “special.”  Instead, I want it to be acceptable to wish for your kids to grow up, remember the mundane, and label it “special” because it reminds them of a childhood well-lived.  A childhood where they learned to be their own person.  To work hard, and never feel entitled to anything.

So, to all you parents out there, I ask you to share a story with me.  Not all the things you wished you had as a kid.  But rather, what did the “not having” teach you about life?