Friday, June 17, 2005

The Graduate.

“If you keep touching your hairdo, I swear I’ll just leave right now. You can drive to school with Daddy”

We both knew I was bluffing. Between the video equipment, the presents for her teachers, the dessert I made for the “bring something from your heritage” luncheon and the raft of flowers, there wasn’t any room in Daddy’s car for her.

Welcome to Kindergarten Graduation, Circa 2005.

I had reacted to a sweet milestone in Daughter’s childhood the way I always do: I lost my mind and did too much stuff.

For example, I chose to take the “bring something from your family's heritage” luncheon menu very seriously. [When I mentioned this to my mom in passing, she suggested I show up with scotch-and-soda and Lean Cuisine.]

I chose instead to make a cheesecake with a fabulous recipe I had stashed away. This recipe demands intermittent attention for over three hours, which I provided; and yet it still managed to slant so drastically to one side the neighborhood boys wanted to use it for a skateboarding ramp.

Of course, before I could make the cheesecake, I needed to clean my trusted KitchenAid mixer, which, when not in use, lives above the refrigerator like some abandoned farm equipment. Since it is not in use 364.9 days a year, and since it has plenty of crevices where worrisome grime accumulates, using this labor-saving device required an hour’s worth of scrubbing with a toothbrush, now retired.

I decided it would be cute for Daughter to write a thank-you note to her teachers. This became a typed note once I realized a hand written version was going to resemble a ransom note.

A typed thank-you note required an hour of monitoring Daughter on computer. I wasn’t worried about her spelling or grammar. I was worried she might feel a pressing need to see what happens when a person slides a tortilla into the CD holder.

I suggested she might want to decorate the thank-you note. This became an evening’s research into How Many Ariel Stickers Can You Fit on One Page? In case you’re curious, sixteen. And, lovely as she is, each Ariel looks even better with a kitten sticker on her tail.

I had already decided to write a note to her teachers commending them on the wonderful job they’ve done with my kid, but that took several nights, as I kept breaking down and singing “Sunrise, Sunset” and dashing in to her room to stare at her sleeping.

And yet, today, I was calm and focused. Tears are for someone who doesn’t have to get her hair and then her daughter’s hair into picture-ready shape. Since, between the two of us, we possess twenty-seven cowlicks, I combined a promiscuous quantity of mousse with a drive and determination seldom seen outside a war room. I was firing on all cylinders. I believe I styled the dog’s hair at one point. Consort ambled into the bathroom to ask how we were doing. I thought I had a pleasant and welcoming look on my face but since he caught my eye, blanched white and whispered “Uh, never mind”, perhaps I didn’t.

Before I had a child, I assumed Kindergarten graduation was yet another in the long line of indulgent Baby Boomer rituals. You know, “We’re so special that our offspring aren’t merely children, they are future CEOs who also head up Doctors Without Borders, and each passage must be celebrated!”

Or something like that.

And then I had a kid. And she spent two years in the same classroom with the same teachers, many of the same students and one remarkably patient rat. Daughter has been there for almost half of her waking hours, five days a week, growing and changing at a rate almost visible to the naked eye.

What I didn’t understand until today is how this pint-sized ceremony really isn’t for the parents. Not that we weren’t all cooing over the tiny mortar-boards, and Tom Cruise had fewer cameras trained on him this week than these graduates did. But watching the kids do their meticulously rehearsed walk to a pre-recorded “Pomp and Circumstance”, I saw pride wafting off them in waves. They weren’t looking for parental approval; a child would catch her parent’s eye for a brief instant, and then go back to remembering which hand of the teacher’s to shake, remembering what to say when handed her flower, remembering to stand still and tall.

They were once little, and now they are big. Some of them are working on new teeth. Some are working on yellow belts in Karate. All of them are gobbling up life in exuberant mouthfuls, eager to begin the next adventure; and for one lovely moment, each parent got to watch his or her child savor the satisfaction of a hill climbed, and the wonderful anticipation of higher ones to come.

The graduation over, the kids were flinging themselves around the playground, but I couldn’t find Daughter. She was sitting in her former classroom, on the little couch which was not yet stored for the summer. She was looking at a book.

“Whatcha doing?”

She looked up.

“This is my thinking place. This is where I always come to read”

My heart wilted. Was it possible she hadn’t understood the point of all this? Was what I had assumed to be complete sang-froid in fact miscomprehension? Or worse, denial?

“You know you’re going to another school in the fall, right? Not here?”

“Oh, yes. I just want a few more minutes.”

Looking at her sitting there, I just wanted a few more years.


Anonymous Kate said...

The cowlick thing...My sister and I have, I think, 8 cowlicks between us. I look at the girls with long hair and a totally straight part down the middle and think "science fiction." After the unfortunate vertical bangs incident of 1994 (this look works when you are 3, but not when you own a business and actually want customers to come into the store), I now interview potential hairdressers with a thoroughness that might even impress Homeland Security. I also (as did my sister) totally gave up any attempt at any parting of my hair in any sort of traditional fashion.

So now Daughter has summer activities? Hope you get some sleep.

7:20 PM  
Blogger Quinn Cummings said...

Daughter has a few activities. Shockingly, they all involve me driving. But we're planning on a low-key summer, and I thank you for your support in my pursuit of a REM cycle.

8:50 PM  
Anonymous Melissa said...

Let's be clear in our terminology. To Quinn, a "low-key summer" means not more than 3 different kid activities per day, each involving not more than 30 minutes drive (one way). Not to mention the twice-weekly side trips to the library for research materials when daughter and/or Quinn decide to learn more about whatever daughter is immersed in - say, herpatology and the history of Guatemalan dance costumes. Quinn's low-key is probably equivalent to most people on 3 double lattes - but I mean that in a loving way, because that means she also has the energy to meet her friends for coffee and hikes in the midst of all this activity.

2:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful--especially that last sentence. I can totally relate.

1:07 PM  

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