There’s a hustle and bustle mounting in our home as we prepare for Max’s eighth grade graduation ceremony tomorrow. All this week and some of last, I’ve made mental check lists about outfits, the best places inside and outside of our house for well lit photo ops and the complicated logistics for the day of the event itself. Chloe, who will play trumpet with the Griffin Band throughout the ceremony, is required to be in one part of the school to prep for her performance, while Max, the graduate, is needed in another part of the school before the ceremony begins.
After these two family members are in their proper places for the event, the parents (with the youngest and least cooperative children in tow) must park the car at the community college across the street from the middle school, then walk a great distance across a busy street to locate and claim four seats in a row somewhere within the vast graduation arena on the soccer field of the middle school. We’ll likely fail, despite our early arrival time, to successfully find four chairs together in a row. We will have to reconfigure on the spot, splitting off into two groups of one parent, one child. I will get Gigi because experience has taught us that the girl to girl, boy to boy pairings usually work best. We will each have to be sun blocked heavily since the ceremony, at a mid-afternoon hour, will be prime time for the pale east coasters to roast severely.
Since there are no shade trees on the wide open grassy fields, umbrellas have been suggested by the event organizers. It is not likely that we’ll be able to manage toting beach umbrellas while we usher the uncooperative children to the graduation seating area, so I fear that we will appear most greasy from all the sun block applications. I mustn’t forget the camera; it’s battery will need to be juiced and readied for the constant click, click, click so these crucial life moments will be digitally stored without mishap…to be viewed and talked about time and again for years to come. These preparations must be made now, many days in advance, so that all will run smoothly and in a timely fashion on this very important day.
I force Max to try on his Khaki slacks, the pair we purchased with the dark suit last year in anticipation of all the bar mitzvah ceremonies and celebrations he would attend back in New Jersey. The pants are shorter on him now but we both agree (though I am somewhat reluctant; he seems taller than the last time I assessed) that he can probably make them work one more time. We’ll save ourselves some money and the effort of a trip to the mall.
“Are you sure these will be good enough, Max? They seem a little high water…”
“They’re fine, Mom. They’re fine.”
“I was kind of looking forward to going shopping with you.”
“Are you kidding me? I hate the mall. You hate the mall. I want to go play Ultimate Frisbee with Jeremy up at the high school in an hour. We won’t be back in time. These will work…”
“You used to like to go on shopping excursions with me…when you were a little guy.”
“Oh God, Mom, you aren’t going to cry are you?”
“Not now…but probably at the graduation ceremony…I’ll be wearing my sunglasses so it’ll be okay. I can just cry and cry. Everybody’s graduating…Joseph, Patrick…you.”
“It’s not like it’s high school for me, Mom. I’ll still be around for a while…bothering you…leaving my dirty socks around. You’ve got four more luscious years of that. It’ll be great!”
“I remember when your pants were always too long and too loose around your waist; now they’re always too short.”
“Things change.” And with that Max ended the try-on session, stripped off the graduation outfit we had briskly reviewed together and bent down in his boxers to begin re-clothing himself. Piece by piece, the daily uniform of basketball shorts, logo tee shirt, socks and sneakers were reassembled upon his long body. Usually I am whisked out of the room on undressing/redressing occasions, but now he seems not to notice my presence.
“Don’t you want to put on fresh clothes? You had that stuff on all day at school… they kind of stink.”
“And there you go, Mom. Why do you baby me constantly with those kinds of comments about my hygiene and clothes smell? Huh? I can handle these things on my own. Okay?”
“It’s not constant.”
“Yes. It is.”
“Okay. Will you at least pick up the pants and shirt so they’re not all wrinkled for the graduation? They’re still on the floor.”
“M–O–M! I’ll do it! Goodbye!”
Max’s try-on session completed and shopping trip averted, I head down to my own closet on the first floor to address the problem of my outfit for the big graduation day. Referring to the mental check list…I think… yes, I’ve almost figured out Genevieve’s outfit. She and I have narrowed it down to four dresses. Gigi changes her mind hourly about which one will work best. Whatever she decides, they all look good. Maybe by the day before graduation, she and I can narrow it down to just two dress choices…to prevent any last minute harangues. Good thinking. I add that idea to my mental checklist.
Chloe will be wearing her black slacks and white top, the Griffin band uniform. Hope she won’t become too hot in that. Charlie’s outfit…he enjoys dressing up… was picked out days ago when he allowed me to officiate over a brief and successful fitting session outside his bedroom closet. Seersucker pants, a white oxford and a pair of well-worn black dress shoes – hand me downs from Max – will do very nicely for him. Actually, the shoes are two-time hand-me-downs, as they were originally Joe’s little-boy shoes, which our next door neighbor, Mari, generously handed over during a Bollinger shoe crisis at Easter many years ago. Now Joseph is graduating and attending college in the fall. I feel tears coming. Get a grip, no tears yet, I tell myself.
I begin the careful work of examining my summer dresses which hang front and center in my closet. In the spirit of keeping our pre-summer costs to a minimum, I’ve already decided that I will gracefully wear one of my tried-and-true outfits, something within “my collection” that isn’t too worn or frayed but rather conveys “young mom” despite the four children standing (one of them towering) beside my 5’2″ frame. (I might have found a little inexpensive something if we’d gone shopping today, Max and I, but now all hopes of that excursion have been dashed and I am forced to stick to the original plan.) I spot the flower-patterned sleeveless number I wore to Max’s fifth grade graduation. I try that on, hopeful that the zipper will indeed rise smoothly to the top. I am relieved to find that a corset will not be required. I do make a mental note, however, to go light on lunch on the graduation day, maybe even for a few days prior.
I remember Max’s fifth grade graduation just three years ago. Gigi was still a young infant. She spit up a little on my right shoulder and some of it dripped onto the front of the dress. The stain remover was dabbed expertly and the spit up evidence was wiped away. Back then, there were no thoughts about moving to California, just the picture of three years of middle school ahead…Max would play trumpet in the jazz band…his audition had gone well. He hadn’t done as well as we’d hoped on the math test that might allow him to skip sixth grade math, but we were confident that he’d show those teachers once and for all what a math talent he was. Many of Max’s school friends, some from as far back as the pre-school years, would attend the same middle school as Max. It wouldn’t be long before this parent group would be together again while we watched our kids graduate from eighth grade and thoughts of the high school years would loom on the horizon.
My outfit decision made, I check another item off my checklist and proceed with dinner preparations and the evening tasks of dog walking, dishes, bath and shower management and folding laundry… until everyone’s at last tucked into bed for the night. In my pass from room to room, where stories are read, backs are scratched and good-night kisses are planted on warm cheeks, I come to Max’s room. As I enter quietly, for he has already fallen asleep, I see his graduation outfit crumpled in a sloppy heap on the floor of his closet. He never picked up the clothes and re-hung them as I asked! I look over at his resting form on his bed, blue striped sheets leaking out from the side, the grey comforter (we call them “puffs”) pushed down to the bottom of the bed and pouring over the bed frame. The light is still on, a rubik’s cube rests on the window sill to his left. His floor fan blows a soft wind on his face just the way he likes – body warm, face cool. I hang the too-short pants back up, lining up the seams and clipping them into place so they fall from the hangar neatly. I happily do this for my graduate one more time…even though things change.