A Graduation Speech for Parents

My fellow parents; graduates; and those who have ever had parents or who have ever graduated:

I think that it’s a good thing that some Hallmark planner somewhere decided that Father’s Day, not Mother’s Day, should be the holiday closest to graduations.

If Mother’s Day coincided, then it would be an emotional burden too ginormous to bear, and it would probably lead to some sort of social collapse — if not an economic boon for tissues.

Invoking fathers, theoretically the more stoic parental units, is a smart move. (Although on plenty of graduation occasions I’ve enjoyed watching grown men cry.) The well-worn marketing expression, “Dads and Grads,” helps us remember that behind all graduates lurk parents who are moving on to the next age and phase, too.

Speaking of Hallmark — a brand where sentimental word choice is their business — I’d like to call in one of their consultants to my kids’ school, pronto.

There they call graduation “culmination,” which is like a swift kick to the emotional balls. Graduation is something that feels gentle and gradual — a mere conferring of diplomas.

Culmination sounds a little bit dirty and a lot bit final.

I have no personal recollection of my graduation or culmination from what we used to call junior high school. In fact, the only thing I remember of those years was spending my free time drowning my pubescent pain in Double Stuf Oreos and General Hospital, slathered in Noxzema and praying my Billy Dee Williams mustache and pimply forehead would miraculously dissipate in time for high school.

But times have certainly changed, and today we parents work our asses off, desperately trying to shape our children’s perceptions of their world. We push hard so that our kids’ early school years are memorable not for the journey from the tedium of early childhood development through adolescent angst, but primarily for their amazing growth and achievements. By the time they are ready to move on to high school, the impulse to focus solely on the individual accomplishments of one’s precious babies is heightened by hormonal challenges — theirs and ours alike.

The idea that there is no happier, snappier time in life than childhood is a total sham, by the way. Now more than ever I think it’s freakin’ hard to shed your girlhood or boyhood skin and take those first few steps towards independence and adulthood.

In a world where your every move is immortalized and Big Brother is always watching — thanks to everything from the internet to the NSA — messages like always be pretty, data matters and springs eternal, and above all, don’t fuck up, come through loud and clear, beginning at birth. (Seriously, check out the virtual yearbook that is Facebook, and you’ll know I’m right.)

Toward this end, I offer you these humble words of advice from some Bitch’in Facebook friends and me as your children graduate, culminate, or in any way, shape, or form move on:

– When you watch your kid develop and grow, inevitably there will be some rough patches. Like sandpaper, painful experiences slough off a layer, and sometimes that layer is innocence, which is why it’s so hard to watch. But if you remember your own childhood and adolescence, you’ll realize that those sandpapery experiences are exactly what shaped you into the kick ass person you are today.

– Buy your graduate something from Tiffany, and then shove them out of the nest. (Thank you, Jessica Gottlieb!)

– They say time flies when you’re having fun. It’s a good expression — so when you feel like your kids are growing up too fast, just flip the switch and focus on having fun. With them, and as much as possible.

– Get a job. (Note: Parents, this means you, NOT your kids!)

– Good drugs for you, not the graduate!

– If you haven’t already, reconnect w/ yourself & the interests you had before you were a parent…or find new ones. (To that and the piece of advice preceding this one, I’ll add preferably legal. After all, you’re still a role model.)

While these are all great pieces of advice, when parenting is a verb, graduation becomes a deeply reflective time that leaves many of us wondering if we did everything — well, anything — right all these years.

My tears started flowing days in the weeks leading up to my son’s graduation. (Verizon, I’m talking to you sadistic mothertruckers who put a time lapse ad into heavy rotation that features the :30 second maturing of a redheaded kid from infant to college boy!  Do you really hate me as much as Sprint does?)

Then there was the culmination ceremony itself, after which when we came home bursting with pride, but also with the looming sense that everything had changed.

To underscore the emptiness, my son was leaving the next morning at the crack of dawn for a final class trip to Washington D.C. Packing became an all-afternoon activity where we cleared his drawers and closet of all he’d outgrown. And there was a lot of stuff.

I found myself carefully folding the school t-shirts, baseball uniforms, and other sentimental items of clothing that I’ll probably never look at again. (Well, at least not until he leaves for college when I’m sure I’ll spend hours being a freak and smelling his clothes when I miss him most.)

The next morning he was gone.

And then, I got a beautiful graduation gift. Despite the fact I had gone over everything he had in his suitcase about a thousand times and emphasized that he was traveling light to make it easy to stow his luggage in the overhead bin, I got the following text:

“Is the blue bag being checked or is it carry on”

And then it was clear: parents, we may graduate, but we never truly culminate. (I know, still sounds dirty but you know what I mean!)

So if you see me running through an airport, screaming for them to hold the plane, my kid doesn’t have the credit card necessary to check a bag, just know that I’m doing what any other graduation speaker would do: offering you a poignant reminder that we’re all enrolled in a life class that has no ending — only new beginnings.

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