June 10th, 2010

Hoopla and Hysterics

Angie McCullagh

The somber yet celebratory strains of Pomp and Circumstance begin. Parents hold their collective breath. Kids line up, just off stage, wearing their caps, tassels rippling gently. And out march the graduates. Of preschool.

Just last week Belle took part in this ceremony, which, at first, seemed a little over the top. True, the caps were made of construction paper and the diplomas were posterboard certificates bordered by blocky, colorful ABCs. But, my husband and I wondered, Why the formalities? Milo had finished preschool with little more than a pat on the back.

Another reason we questioned the whole milestone marking is because, in the days leading up to “graduation”, Belle developed some serious anxiety.

She began throwing tantrums about things like unbuttered toast, not owning brown dress shoes, and missing barrettes. Things that, at the age of three, would’ve upset her mightily, but at five, mostly roll off her back.

The night before she was to “graduate” she had nightmares through which she twisted violently, writhing around in her sheets, calling “no, no”, and crying in staccato whimpers.

I slept in her room that night and, every half hour or so, whispered to her that everything was okay. Trouble is, when you’re five, you can’t recognize why you’re upset or nervous, even when your mom lays it out for you.

The morning of graduation, more tantrums, more tears. And they weren’t even mine.

Finally, I delivered Belle to her school, promising to come back in an hour for the ceremony.

As she marched down the aisle, construction paper hat on her head, her dad, brother, and I were all there, snapping photos, capturing video, blowing kisses. I knew it was cheesy. I knew that someday she would probably not remember this moment except as shadowy impressions shifting around a grown woman’s mind, but I was happy to be able to experience with her the closure to preschool, the transition to Kindergarten.

A rite of passage, after all, is a rite of passage. And who says the graduate has to be 18 years old and departing high school to make a graduation legitimate?

We celebrated with lunch out and a new Zhu Zhu pet, and placed Belle’s happy diploma on a shelf in her bedroom. I’ve never seen a child more ready for the next step in life. The big K. Even if she doesn’t know it yet.

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Want to stop the pup from chewing on your favorite flowers? Sprinkle them with cayenne pepper. This sneezy spice acts as a repellant for dogs — and may other mammals, too.