This is a shortened, somewhat different version of my essay “The 5-Year-Old Graduate” that appeared in the Spring issue of HybridMom. It’s about my son Sam (now 7 1/2) graduating from preschool and how I was trying to not let my emotions rule me that day.
After a hectic morning spent slicking down rooster tails, the four of us headed to the church preschool for the big ceremony. With us was our close friend Sandra who was visiting from L.A., and I was counting on her to make sure I didn’t lose it and cry at the ceremony. If anyone was going to stay tough today, I knew it’d be my man Sandra.
Arriving at the church, we left an excited Sam in his classroom, then my husband Chris, son Jack, and Sandra and I entered the peaceful chapel where they’d be holding the ceremony. Already feeling a little nervous, I grabbed Sandra’s arm and sternly told her, “Don’t let me fall apart in there today. I don’t want Sam to look over and see me crying. I want him to know that this is a happy event, not a Greek tragedy in corduroys.”
“Don’t worry,” she said, shaking her head full of bright, red curls. “I got your back, baby. But want me to track down some Xanax, just to be on the safe side?”
“Um, no,” I told her as we walked over to the pews to sit down. “But thanks for offering to score drugs for me in a Lutheran church. I really appreciate it.”
I looked around at the rest of parents and relatives who’d come to watch their child graduate, and my head filled with questions. Would Sam be okay? Would he get scared? Would someone just completely lose it during the ceremony and start wailing “MY BAYYY-BEE! MY BAY-BEE!” while crashing headfirst into the cookie table? And if so, would that particular nut job be me?
Then to the accompaniment of “Pomp and Circumstance” and the flashing of a hundred digital cameras, a processional of 13 five-year-olds walked shyly into the church, each one trying desperately (and rather unsuccessfully) to remain quiet and not bump into the kid in front of them. Sam looked our way, gave us his cute, shy smile and tried to ignore his brother Jack’s yells of, “Hey, dere’s Sam! Dere’s Sam! HI-IIIII, SAAAAMMMMM!!”
The kids stood together at the front of the church and sang a lovely song, more or less at the same time, then their teacher Miss Pamela spoke in a quavering voice about the great year they’d just had and how she truly loved each and every kid. As she finished her touching speech, I took a calming breath, then surreptitiously did a quick crybaby check of the crowd. So far, nothing. The room was as dry as Sunday morning in Utah.
Next the church’s pastor got up, said something religious, then shook each kid’s hand and gave them their own bibles with fancy gold covers. I glanced around again, but still no tears within 100 yards. Not even from the atheists. Then came the part of the ceremony that I was sure would bring the crowd to their knees: the Power Point presentation. I nudged Sandra in anticipation and she gave me a “just maintain, girl” look in return.
As I watched the images of our adorable kids having the times of their lives flash on the big screen at the front of the chapel, I finally heard a few scattered sniffles from the right side of the room. Then a few more from the back. After I saw yet another precious image of Sam with his little buddies, my own resolve finally started to weaken, and I quickly took a deep breath. Before I could let it out, however, a tremendously loud Academy Award-winning wail suddenly reverberated throughout the room like a Georgia freight train gone off the rails:
I immediately whipped my head around, eager to see which mom had finally cracked. Had it been Laura? Alison? Jeannie? Probably Jeannie. Everyone knew she was already borderline crazy, poor thing. But no, all of them seemed to be staying strong, so who was it then? Another choking sob now cut through the air. This time it was a little softer, but also a little more pathetic, too. Like the whimpering, gasping noise a dumped bachelorette makes when she’s just realized this is the last rose ceremony of her entire frickin’ life.
I quickly turned toward the direction of the sound, then immediately froze in my seat.
Two feet away from me, pathetically crumpled to the ground, was Sandra, wiping away tears as fast as her hands could catch them. She looked up at me and shrugged, then feebly squeaked, “Our baby Sam is ALL GROWN UPPPP!”
As heads started to turn our way, I put a fake smile on my face and quickly gestured for her to go away and compose herself before Sam wondered why his Aunt Sandra looked like she’d just escaped from a Guatemalan detox center. After she slunk away to the back of the church to cry without persecution, I shakily went back to watching the presentation. But now the pictures were even more cute and poignant, even more “guess what, parents, they’ll never be this age again,” and before I could help it, a twinge of sadness hit me. Hard. I quickly slammed my eyes shut, but unfortunately, the plane had already taken off, and one tear, one lousy little tear, ever so slowly rolled out of my eye and came to rest on my cheek.
And I let it stay.
Finally, the lights came up and the ceremony was done. We hugged a happy Sam, then walked outside to the sunny playground where they’d set up a fancy black-Croc reception for the families. As Sam and Jack played with their friends, and Chris and that total pussy Sandra searched in vain for a drink stronger than apple juice, I wandered over to the empty tire swing for some solitude.
I sat there swaying in the wind and enjoying my hors d’oevres of Ritz crackers and carrot sticks, and realized that I was going to have to learn how to deal with these poignant moments in the boys’ lives a lot better than I had this one. I realized that I needed to come to grips with the fact that, like it or not, they were growing up and leaving me a little more each day.
But for that moment, for those five minutes when I was precariously wedged onto a dirty tire swing eating crackers, I was just happy that I’d made it through our preschool graduation without crashing headfirst into the cookie table.