Jack, our oldest, graduated pre-school last week. There was a ceremony because this, apparently, is what happens now.
He waved as he walked up the aisle to stand with his classmates. Once there, he yelled to us, “Take a picture of all of us. ALL of us.”
Everyone laughed. I wondered how we’re raising the single child out of 40 who felt empowered to make a loud, public request in front of a church full of people.
I sat in our pew between our middle and my wife, feeding the baby and listening to the graduates sing the songs they were taught to sing. I peek around heads and the extended arms of parents and grandparents holding up cell phones. I see Jack in a tiny screen that is not mine.
There were no awards. There was no valedictorian. The director of the school said a few words, about how blessed she felt to be part of our kids’ lives. They stand there, fidgety and distracted and unmoved, their whole bodies asking when they can go run around. I hear the sporadic sniffle from a crying parent.
Afterwards, there is cake. Because there is nothing excited, eager young children need more for dinner than a slab of sugar.
Before the cake, we watched a movie one of the parents made on her Mac and scored with a medley of unlicensed music. It’s an amateur bit of editing at best, little more than a slide show of photographs of the kids at play in class. There’s no theme. No narrative. I scold my inner critic for being such an asshole.
I’m not the audience.
The kids are. They sat on the floor, laughing and screaming out each other’s names in pure joy whenever one of them pops up on screen, happy for each other. Proud to be seen, recognized and remembered.
The video ended abruptly, cut short by the last gasps of a dying DVD player. Parents milled about, talking to each other or chasing after their kids or grouping them for more cell phone pictures. Have these kids all seen St. Elmo’s Fire? They draped arms over each other’s shoulders and mugged for the camera and gave each other hugs.
We go to the end-of-the-year picnic the next day and it’s more of the same. Goodbyes and good lucks and much screaming and running. One of our friends wants to make up for a miss the previous night, when we didn’t heed Jack’s advice and take a picture of all of them, ALL OF THEM, together. She has all their caps in a giant Tupperware container. I helped herd the cats and line them up. They stood still, suddenly formal, hands at their sides.
I tend to resist this urge to celebrate every moment of our kids’ lives. When I grew up, parents missed plays because there weren’t flexible schedules or nannies. Scores were kept in Little League. Games were lost. Disappointment was a natural, expected part of childhood.
Maybe that’s why so many parents stayed home from work on a Friday. Standing there and calling out to their children to smile underneath their powder blue caps and laughing as they snapped their cell phone pictures.