My son graduated from middle school Tuesday night and, like most parents of teenagers, I breathed a sigh of relief that he passed another year of school. It ain’t easy with boys – in addition to some of the last minute nail biting [Did he pass his final exams? Does he have any huge outstanding book fines he neglected to tell us about?] – we had a week long argument about whether or not it was mandatory to attend the graduation ceremony.
My son isn’t one for pomp and circumstance. Unlike my daughter, he shuns the spotlight and – like me – prefers the background and the sidelines. He’s not one to gobble up praise or bask in the limelight of an accomplishment, so the idea of dressing up in a nice shirt and a tie [egads!] not to mention a cap* and gown, made him understandably twitchy. He insisted he would still graduate even if he didn’t go to the actual graduation – and I agreed, he would, but that wasn’t going to get him out of going. He argued that it would be crowded, hot, long and basically silly with everyone parading around in their polyester gowns just to get little cardboard folders that don’t contain the real diplomas because they mail those out later. Likewise I agreed and repeated that, as correct as his assessment was, he was still going.
He tried a different tack and asked me if I really felt like hanging out at the school, dealing with the traffic and all the inconvenience of getting there, climbing around in the bleachers and sitting there just to see him from a distance walk across the field and shake the principal’s hand. I had to grudgingly admit, I’d rather just skip the whole hoopla and go out to dinner, but nevertheless we were going.
Not because I’m a big fan of graduation ceremonies, or middle school, and not, as he believes, because I want to torture him by making him wear a tie**, a decent pair of pants and a shirt that doesn’t have a video game logo on it somewhere, but because, as a parent, I’ve earned this moment and I’m going to darn well have it, even if it is a big pain in the butt.
That thirty seconds, during which he steps up to the announcement of his name , strides across the field and accepts the diploma that allows him to move on to his last four years of public education, is my payment for having to drop out of Mommy and Me because he had a tantrum every time we so much as made it to the parking lot, my payment for having to hand him, kicking and screaming, over the threshold of pre-school to the assurance of the teacher that he would calm down about ten minutes after I left, my payment for all the last minute trips to the store to buy supplies for the project that was ‘due tomorrow’ but he forgot to tell me about it, my payment for baking cupcakes for the school party on the day he got an ear infection and couldn’t even go to school, my payment for picking him up from the nurse’s office because he had a ‘headache’ that miraculously went away during the ride home. I get those thirty seconds as compensation for the bouts of crying that accompanied those early homework assignments and having to explain to his teacher why his notebook looked like a werewolf had attacked it, and running to school with forgotten lunch money and essays and student IDs – all the things I swore I’d never do, but I did anyway because I didn’t want him not to have what he needed even though he’d been reminded a dozen times.
So I finally got my payback. I got to see him dressed up nicely, hair neat, shoes tied, standing taller than me and looking much older than 14 years, and I got to see my little boy take one more step toward being the man I hope for him to be one day.
I don’t like pomp and circumstance either. But I’ll deal with the traffic, the crowds, the confusion and the summer heat to get my payday, and it was well worth it.
*Interestingly, the graduation didn’t include caps – who has a graduation without the cap?
**He ended up not wearing the tie