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The Ballad of a Pre-K Graduation

I was leaning up against the wall when the kids came out on stage.

Violet emerged next to last, her smile as big as I’d ever seen it. As a parent, you spend so much time correcting kids and telling them why this and that aren’t "acceptable behavior," why it’s not OK to smoosh your dirty little diseased thumb into the artisanal muffins on display at the coffeehouse, or why we don’t toss our sippy cups out the moving car window when we’re bored with the same old lukewarm apple juice. Now though, spotting my daughter up there with her little pre-kindergarten classmates, decked out in her white graduation cap, I felt my heart explode.

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That was nothing new, of course; like any dad who isn’t a complete ass, Violet has made my heart explode before, a lot of times, more times than any other girl I’ve ever known, when I think about it.

Somehow though, this time was different. This time, my heart exploded and my breath hissed out from behind my damn ears and I felt that same sort of weak-in-the-knees you typically feel when you’re staring at someone you’ve been waiting all your life to spot, across the bar somewhere in the middle of those first two beers (after three beers your heart is useless).

I felt buzzed by the mere sight of my little girl. How could this be happening, you know? How could my 5-year-old daughter be graduating something — anything?

Life moves fast and we’ll be dead before we know it, but we need reminders now and then, I guess. We need a hot bitch-slap across the cheek here and there, something to knock us out of the peculiar grooves we tend to fall into as "mature" grown-ups, as people just trying to make ends meet and not get arrested or killed or sick or sad.

Everything I had ever seen or done landed on my shoulders that night about a month ago at the small ceremony in the Catholic Church rectory hall. All of my accomplishments, all of my screw-ups, every kiss and every punch and every dollar I’ve ever found lying there on the sidewalk, all of it congealed and formed some sort of a jellyfish cloud and settled down around me like some bizarre haze of living, some thick cloud of life.

I don’t agree with anyone who says that there’s no point in a graduation ceremony for little kids, because I think there is one. Hell, I even think, no, I know, that there are a lot of them

They sang songs then, those 15 or 16 kids did. Some Jesus songs, a couple of old standards — "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider," they did that one, I remember. And through every second of it I stood there holding back the tears. But it was hard. It isn’t easy to not cry in front of people at events like this. There is so much happening, so many twists and turns all knotting themselves together to define vast acres of your life. Lots of fairly intelligent people say that the whole Pre-K graduation thing is stupid. They say it’s a waste of time and that it’s overkill in a bunch of ways, but I don’t agree with any of that.

I don’t agree with anyone who says that there’s no point in a graduation ceremony for little kids, because I think there is one. Hell, I even think, no, I know, that there are a lot of them.

But the biggest one of them all is that when it’s your own kid up there shaking the jingle bells out of sync as she looks at the kid next to her, her "fellow grad," some snot-nosed goober banging away on a tambourine like a coked-up gypsy, and she smiles and sunshine comes roaring out of her tiny mouth with the force of dragon steam, you will be feeling the explosion of your heart blowing your insides apart with love and heat and indescribable joy.

And I don’t know about you, but if you were ever to take the tram tour of my own personal hunk of brain matter, I might as well tell you straight-up ahead of time that you might pass some weird and goofy shit up there, but one thing you probably won’t come across a lot of is indescribable joy.

But not that night. I had it that night. I had 30 tons of joy up in me just busting to cut loose. And looking back on it now, I’d say I probably even had enough joy for you and all your weirdo friends, too. That’s what these kind of nights do to us, you see. That’s exactly how some pre-kindergarten graduation is supposed to make us feel, as we stand there or sit there and watch our own lives whipping us by in the ancient wind. And that is exactly how it made me feel that night — so perfectly drunk and stoned and giddy that I just wanted to fist-pump the churchy air and cry all over the filthy floor tiles in a room I’d probably never walk into again.

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So yeah, of courses that’s what freaking I did. I cried. Hard. Even though I tried not to. Because I was destined to cry from the moment I spotted Violet’s cap, you know.

Hell, ya’ll — I was born to do it.

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