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?

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “Too Much Pomp for the Circumstance

  1. Leonda

    You are so right. Darrin and I chose an ecomomicly diverse private school for Chance. Chance just graduated from high school, with an academic and football scholarship. However he has friends in Victory who’s parent work two jobs, or thet are the janitor at school, or doctors. This has made Chance and his friends aware of how blessed they arw ans why he is told NO. No, I am not buying a new Camero for your 16th birthday. NO you are not going to Chicago for a weekend. No – am not paying 100 bucks for jeans. He has a 95 F150, he stayed home and he has a pair of 38 dollar jeans.
    Guess what? He survived and is a great kid.

    • Ahhh. The $100 for jeans. My mind is still stuck on prices from the 80’s, so I have a hard time spending more than $20. I’m a cheapskate and hoping my kids will one day love me for it, while cursing my name all through high school.

  2. Thanks for providing a welcome distraction from my homework! I’m glad you wrote about this because it IS ridiculous. Once upon a time, it was a big deal that 25% of high school students even finished because it was so common (and necessary) to drop out and work (1930s). It wasn’t a given that everyone would graduate. So when they did, it was cause to celebrate. Likewise, graduating from college and beyond is a pretty big deal because it requires a hell of a lot of work and personal dedication. And college is not required or truly expected of anyone, if you really think about it. So it’s something to celebrate.

    But having worked in pre-schools, I can confirm that NOBODY FAILS PRE-SCHOOL! There are no grades in preschool. The main goal of preschool is to learn that there is such a thing as school. And maybe that there are people in the world besides yourself. Kids don’t care that they’re done — it usually doesn’t even register with them that they won’t be coming to school the next day, which is why the end of pre-school sucks: The adorable children never say goodbye!

    On the other hand, it seems good to have some kind of event that marks the passage from one school to another — from one developmental stage of life to another. It seems like a cookies and thank yous in class would suffice. 150 square feet of cookies and Mackenzie’s minivan are a little much. A LOT much.

    • Amen, Charity! I am all about the school program. Sing a few songs. Give your teacher a card. Done. I am also glad to hear that nobody fails preschool. Though my rant makes me seem like a stick in the mud, there are places where everyone should have a chance (a.k.a. preschool and little league).

  3. Tara Underwood

    Scott, I agree with you also. On a side note, Caroline’s pre-k graduation isn’t until August. However, we did attend the pre-K prom a few weeks ago, complete with hired entertainment, corsages, and a new dress.

  4. Kerri Kearney

    Thank you, thank you for making me feel better about refusing to buy yearbooks for my first and second graders. Aren’t there still a few things they need to wait for?? But you’re helping me see why I was asked to “confirm” last week that I would be curving midterm exam grades for my MBA students (yes, MBA students). My response was “what is curving?” That was met with shocked silence from the whole group. No I will not curve the grades. I will help you to increase your learning but there are no group rewards just because you made a pact with each other to not study. Do you really think that’s how the world works?? OH MY, your first boss is just going to LOVE you. (Yes, Scott, you hit a hot spot for me with this topic.) It’s fascinating to me that given all of the goals and the support they are, my students still find some justifcation for being mad at ME when they receive the grade they actually EARNED. Graduation for pre-k? Do the kids actually enjoy (or even understand) that?? And parents want to sit through that effort at every educational transition (I have yet to find a graduation people actually enjoy.) How about celebrating with a good water balloon fight, fist pumping and lots of “you go girl (boy)” instead!

  5. keikokub@berkeley.edu

    Sometimes I think we are all lucky not to have strokes when contemplating the madness of our culture these days. I will identify as a parent in the stands cheering like crazy at sporting events and performances of my kids, but I also didn’t like it when one of them got a “sportsmanship” award for being the best athlete. Thanks for this thoughtful rant. Please don’t eat yourself sick again; there are better ways to deal with this kind of frustration [unless of course that part of your rant was literary metaphor]. Love you Scott – have the best birthday!!!

    • Thanks, Keiko! Hanging out with Amy and the Brands this weekend in Ohio for Josh’s graduation… where I just heard there are twelve valedictorians. Yes. Twelve. I am praying they all don’t have to give a speech. otherwise, there may be a part II to the blog. We miss you!

  6. Kerri

    Oh Scotty this is so so true. While I love a Kindergarten graduation. Jack’s lasted all of 10 minutes and we almost missed his name being called because well we are the “brands” and were arriving 3 minutes late. We were warned that is started promptly at 10am. We had a family picnic on the school lawn and the kids played on the playground. The entire school and their families were invited. I as you know am headed to my oldest son’s high school graduation on Sunday and I called to see if I needed to order tickets? The lady on the phone kindly said oh there are always plenty of seats. Then I remember I live in the country not the city where I grew up and graduated with 1000 kids in my class. Anywho.. I can remember as a kid/teen growing up and begging mom to take us the McDonalds or Taco Bell. This was a treat on a very very special occasion. I would say but MOM I don’t want to eat my burger on two pieces of white bread I want to go to Mc Donalds… Gabby can attest to this.. Nowadays kids get McDonalds weekly if not several times a week. We live in a “Blueberry girl society” that we have created of I want it and I want it now! Abby is always yelling at me because I don’t answer my cell phone. Mom what if I was dying and you didn’t answer your phone? I said then I would get your message when I got home. What do you think we did when I was a kid? We didn’t have cell phones. We waited until we got home to talk to someone or if we called someone and they didn’t answer we left a message and WAITED for them to call us back. We only got new clothes and gifts at Christmas or our birthday. A car or a cell phone was not a God given right it was a hard worked for privilege. Try working in an emergency department. Up comes a “customer” I say customer on purpose because 1) they are not there for an emergency and 2) they come to the ED because in their words ” I don’t have to pay for it, if I go to my MD I have to pay for it upfront first”. And they say I was here yesterday ( actually 5 hrs ago) and the discharge papers said if I don’t feel better to come back.. They have a cold and were given and antibiotic and have taken 1 dose or a urinary tract infection and they aren’t magically better. I want to say well you aren’t going to feel better immediately it will take some time. But I instead check them in and do my job. We live in an instant gratification society and the media and world are feeding it like a monster. One patient actually left because my friend would not give him a pill that would make him instantly better, yes he actually said that! honestly? really? well I will climb off my soapbox and get back to it. Now I am going to wait for my virtual prize !! Yeah.

  7. tiz

    When my mom told me NO, I PROMISED myself I would NEVER tell my kids NO.

    What? Did I say something?

  8. Eva Jackson

    Scott,

    I teach in an urban high school. I only wish that my parents still had that much enthusiasm for their children’s successes! By High School, a lot of my parents are tired and have given up. I’ve actually had parents tell me, “don’t call me. S/He is your problem. S/He won’t listen to me either! What happens between 5 and 18 that turns these “suma cum loud” kids into throw away kids?

    In my high school, at any given time, at least 25-30 students are pregnant, another 10 already have children, 30 or more students have a parole officer, security bracelet, or are spending time in juvie hall. Another 10 students are homeless, living in shelters.
    Out of a class of about 180, 80 of these will not be walking across the stage to receive their diploma on Tuesday evening.

    These same students walk the halls with their MP3 players, I-Pods, cell phones, ear buds etc. Ignore all teachers who ask them to put them away, take off their hats, or pull up their pants. Come into the classroom and cuss the teacher out if any attempts are made to confiscate the electronics. And stare defiantly at the teacher when asked whee there homework is…because of course it’s not done, at home, in the locker, lost etc.

    I’m sure that these same students at 4 or 5 did not dream of growing up and becoming a drug dealer, gang leader, or teen parent.

    We as parents and as a society are failing our children. Child rearing doesn’t stop when our babies are no longer the adorable toddlers and pre-schoolers they once were. Parenting is hard work! It’s even harder when our world continually bombards us with a “hundred fifty square feet of cookies,” figuratively speaking!

    To say that the problem lies solely on the parents shoulders is unfair and untrue. Nor should the blame be laid at the feet of the teachers. Until we re-establish a climate for learning in our schools that goes far beyond the pomp and ceremony, we will not be able to stop the flood of throw away children. I personally have no problem with celebrating little success with little children. I have a huge problem, however, with turning a blind eye on so many of our children who may have nothing to celebrate after their pre-school graduation. Until we, as a society, return to living and teaching basic Gospel values, including a concern for all human life regardless of the color of their skin, their socio-economic station in life, their religious affiliation (or lack thereof), their sexual orientation, or any other qualifiers we might add, a Kindergarten graduation may be the only thing kids will celebrate.

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