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