Disclaimer: The following represents a cornucopia of experiences, some of them exaggerated for dramatic effect. A composite, if you will. Names have been omitted or changed to protect the guilty.
Congratulations! I say this with a megaphone, ticker tape—with gusto!
I feel like I need these things to get your attention. Because your high school graduation party is really, really loud.
The parents have gone all out, staging a celebration that tops them all. This dealio dwarfs the backyard carnival rented for your first birthday—you don’t remember because you slept through most of it, but I was there. It was a thing.
Look at you, finishing twelfth grade (i.e. turning eighteen). Get a load of the set-up—a band and a d.j., caterers, a bartender, and dozens of your folks’ friends—who is that woman with the hot pink heels? Must be from Mom’s tennis team. Who cares, as long as that envelope tucked under her armpit is stuffed with cash? Or a check—either way.
Yours truly hides behind sunglasses, taking it all in. Despite the cat eyes, I am so not the cool kid. Feet planted in Zoysia, it happens—poof—I turn into my mother as I watch teen-aged girls go by. That’s a nice dress, dear, but where’s the rest of it?
It’s official: I am a kill-joy, a prude, downright Victorian. I beg your pardon—my brain waves, have mercy on them, are just now competing with the booming bass of “Funky Cold Medina,” a ditty I’d thought—wished—to hear the last of in 1989.
Don’t get me wrong: It’s right as rain, celebrating a big milestone. So why so troubled, oh my soul? Mere trappings, these. Posh is nothing new around these parts. (Case in point, the chocolate fountain on Valentine’s Day in my kindergartner’s classroom.) And I’m not above a nice shindig—would I really want to get all dolled up for a down-market jamboree, serving up a warm keg and cold fried chicken?
Still, no amount of atmosphere can make up for silly. And it’s not the trimmings, over-the-top as they may be. It’s the subtext. (It’s always the subtext.)
More than one conversation went something like this:
Johnny didn’t get into his first-choice school—the big state university with the free tuition— despite his perfect grades, perfect test scores, perfect attendance. It’s so unfair. We are freakin’ PISSED. Reminds me of when he didn’t get to start during one particularly dark season of Pee Wee. We let the coach have it back then, and believe you me, the admissions office heard from us this go round, too. Now we’re being forced—forced, I tell you—to shell out 60K per year for choice number two. Still, plan B has a promising football program. We’ve already bought season tickets…
Johnny’s leaving home, and you’re still going to spend Saturdays driving to his games?
I don’t think they parent this way in Paris.
I feel for our children—the pressure to perform is real. You are what your CV says. Curriculum vitae—literally course of life—and you can’t yet buy beer. You’re a Bear or a Bulldog and then some fine day you go to parties identical to this one to be asked What do you do?
I wonder, what would it look like if we made a fuss over our offspring not for smarts or sports, but, say, for keeping one’s word or unseen acts of kindness or a sense of humility? What if we killed the fatted calf in honor of the lost art of losing? What if we bragged on that? Alternatively, what if we didn’t brag at all?
What if we Funky Cold Medina’d over the virtue of—virtue?
Virtue, now that’s Victorian.
Such would be a strange sort of social gathering, though, wouldn’t it? A Johnny-Stood-Up-To-A-Bully soiree? There’s simply no ring to it.
Some birds I know are moving home this weekend, college sophomores no more. In the works is a champagne dinner on the porch. Candles and wildflowers and the four of us—over-dressed, spinning standards, listing the highlights and low-lights. We’ll clink glasses to another year. There have been accomplishments, to be sure—honors hard-won at the twins’ respective universities. But the point is this: Here’s to the friendships, some of them tricky, that not only survived but thrived. To long nights in the library. To a stolen hour spent on the campus lawn, face lifted to sunshine. To live oaks with moss hanging over cobblestone paths and to well-placed benches—and to the noticing of these. To laughing at yourself. To finding yourself with a gaggle of good companions, and to late-night bake-offs and practical joke wars and impromptu trips to Sonic. And to the fullness that comes only in the empty spaces—lonely Sunday afternoons and unanswered texts and the wanting of a home-cooked meal.
An odd little party, no doubt. Not better than the big shebang, only—different. And much easier on the bank account.