It’s the end of the school year and I just want to get off the train. In today’s Boston Globe, Allison Ijams Sargent has a brilliant op-ed piece about the American penchant for over-celebrating the trivial (like the final karate lesson or the “graduation” of a preschool class four-year-olds). The May/June mania really struck me when we moved back from Ireland last school year.
In a nutshell, being a parent while living in Ireland was easy. In June, all the music lessons, sports seasons, and school years just up and ended. Gracefully, quietly, and precisely at the time when everyone was pretty well fed up with them anyway.
Not so in the US. What I particularly like about the essay by Ijams Sargent is that she isn’t simply lamenting the ridiculous effort expended by US parents, coaches, and teachers to mark the trivial. Her deeper insight is that these endless celebrations make the really big events somehow unimportant. Her particular example:
“My daughter is actually facing a graduation worth celebrating. Her high school days are dwindling, now countable on one hand. Her college acceptance letter is on the fridge. For a long time, I was eerily inert about this milestone. I know it was because I was equating it with another cupcake ceremony. I got slapped back into reality in the department store dressing room watching her model graduation dresses. My daughter has been trying on her adulthood for size all year, but I almost missed it.”
Ditto, for me with my high school senior son. In the rush of lacrosse banquets and piano concerts, his unique milestone nearly became just another item on the calendar. We had to look hard last night simply to locate the school bulletin about the upcoming graduation rehearsal dates. It really bothered me that I had shoved this notice in a distant pile of “I’ll get to this someday” minutia. Similarly, we almost invited the grandmothers for the wrong time and day for the ceremony.
How could we not know the day of our oldest son’s graduation? We never did this before–we never launched a kid into the world. Heck, I’ve been quietly anticipating and dreading this day since the day he was born. And it’s not that we are disorganized, uncaring or unaware of calendar commitments: I somehow memorized the date of the upcoming town override vote, and the freshman formal, and the piano recital. It’s just that the rush of end-of-year events is a tidal wave and this most important milestone nearly got swept out to sea.
Some things just have to matter more. A high school graduation is clearly one of those things. In Ireland, the “matter more” things would have been different: the day final exam results were released, funerals, Christmas, Communions, and Confirmations take center stage. People have plenty of energy for them. They arrange their lives around them. Thanks to Allison Ijams Sargent and the Globe for being wise enough to remind us, over here in the US, that we need to save our time and money and attention for the events that really matter, and leave the rest aside.
Happy post script: Shortly after I wrote this post, I learned that my youngest son politely withdrew from tomorrow night’s piano recital. Friday night is recovered!