Monday, June 15, 2009

On Milestones Marked Alone

On Friday, June 5, 2009, my daughter marked a milestone. That was the night of the first of (presumably) three graduations in her lifetime should we continue to live in the area in which we now reside. Where we live neither the close of kindergarten or middle school is marked with a ceremony, so this is the last time she will participate in a graduation ceremony of any kind until she completes high school. In thirteen years.

Many people here seem to think that the idea of a preschool graduation is overrated, an unnecessary waste of their temporal and financial resources. It is a burden to be borne and a nuisance with which to comply. I, however, have looked forward to this day for the last two years, albeit with mixed emotions.

Just a few months after my wife passed away, we were invited to the preschool graduation of the daughter of some very close friends, who also attended the same daycare/preschool as my daughter. Though I was still very much in no mood to celebrate, I put on the happiest face I possessed at the time and we (my then three-year-old and I) attended the ceremony. Had I not attended that night, I don’t believe I would have realized what a big deal is made over the ceremonies at this particular school and would therefore probably not have insisted that my daughter’s grandparents travel here when it was her turn to graduate. Suffice it so say, it is a very well-done program, especially when one considers that these children have not yet set foot inside an official public school building.

Thus, by the evening of June 4th, I had not only completed my final day of work for the school year, but had readied the entire house for enough company to fill all three of the bedrooms in my modest little abode. My parents arrived on Wednesday night, just about the time my daughter usually heads off to bed. I, of course, allowed her to stay up late that evening as they had traveled all day to see her. They took up residence in the official spare bedroom (which my daughter usually refers to as “Grandma and Grandpa’s room” even when they are not visiting) as they would be staying longer than the others. The following evening, my wife’s parents arrived and took up residence in my room as I thought that would be more comfortable for them than sleeping in my daughter’s room.

(A side note here: When I bought my daughter’s “big girl bed” last summer, I purchased a trundle bed with the specific thought that it would be ideal should both sets of grandparents have occasion to visit at the same time. The only trouble with this idea is that, even though the trundle pops up to meet her regular bed, I bought mattresses of two different thicknesses and thus there is a gap of an inch or two between the two beds. Not the end of the world, but not exactly comfortable for people nearing sixty, either. So I slept on the trundle at floor level and gave them my bed instead.)

I took the day off Friday, but had to send my daughter to school for the morning as it was the dress rehearsal for graduation and even a houseful of grandparents was not reason enough to justify missing it. So we arose as if it were a normal work day, with me dropping her off shortly before breakfast was served. I then spent more than twenty minutes in the drive-thru of one of my favorite breakfast chains, while they forgot my order and I eventually had to exit the vehicle and go inside to inquire about it. Breakfast finally in hand, I headed home.

On the way, I had what would be my first and only good cry of the weekend.

I managed to quit before I pulled in the driveway, and if anyone could tell nothing was mentioned and no looks were visibly exchanged. We all enjoyed a nice leisurely breakfast, then went our separate ways – her parents to the mall to find her mom a new dress, my mom and I to town to buy teacher gifts and pick up my daughter’s graduation gift from Daddy. My stepdad stayed home, presumably to make some work-related calls, but I think he really stayed to keep the dog company.

Mom and I picked my daughter up around noon. We managed to pry her out of her sobbing teachers’ arms only after I’d promised to bring her back to visit this summer. Once home, we all shared lunch, Then my daughter attempted to rest while the men checked and charged their camera and video camera batteries and the women ironed their dresses and fixed their hair. (It was very 1950’s except for the electronics).

We arrived at the preschool early, so there was actually a little time to relax before the ceremony started. I spent time talking to some friends and then the lights went down and a parade of children entered singing in very proud voices and waving small streamers. They were all dressed in their Sunday best, but none had donned a gown at this early stage of the ceremony. They looked like little grown-ups in theirs dresses and ties, but for the child-like adulation on their young faces. The group of forty or so children sang several songs that they had obviously practiced well before parading back out the doors through whence they had come.

This was followed by several specials, including two songs by a very talented young girl from across the state. Then more music was played as the children reentered, this time in their tiny pink and blue caps and gowns. If I thought they looked like little grown-ups before, I was definitely not prepared for this. They sang two more songs as a collective group, then each class was called up individually for the presentation of their diplomas. My daughter’s class was second and she was the second to last one called. But each child’s name was called and each was handed a diploma.

As I snapped as many pictures as possible, the gravity of my wife’s absence hit me in a way it hasn’t in quite some time.

I managed to hold myself together and continue smiling like the proud papa I was, but under the pride was an emptiness I had been naïve enough to believe I might not have to endure again. Now I know to expect it again when she starts school in a couple months.

After her class had been presented, she was allowed to come sit with me. So even though she sat mostly on my lap, the seat next to me was no longer completely empty. We waited and clapped as the other classes were presented, but my joy for the evening was complete, the fulfillment of which was perched on my left leg.

After the ceremony ended, we spent some time talking to our friends who had returned my favor of two years prior and come to see my little one walk across the stage. Then we headed to the fellowship hall for the reception. Most early childhood graduation ceremonies do not hold a reception of any kind, but I am certain none hold one quite like the one we enjoyed. Every table and wall in the entire hall was decorated – tablecloths, balloons, confetti - you name it. There was a full buffet line including some hot items and many (intentionally) cold ones and desserts as well. Every teacher my daughter has had in her five years there came and spoke to us, and most gave hugs as well. It was a joy to see the love that my daughter has experienced during her days while I was away at work. There is something comforting in not only knowing that your child is well cared for, but in seeing the manifestation of that love in moments such as this. It was a beautiful evening and one we will not soon forget.

Once we had eaten our fill and said our goodbyes, we piled back into the van and returned to my house. I’m not sure if it is customary to give gifts upon one’s preschool graduation, but I come from a family where giving gifts is one of the many ways we demonstrate our love for one another. So we capped off the evening by bestowing gifts on the new graduate. My parents gave her a beautiful cross necklace, which she has worn to church both Sundays since the graduation. My in-laws gave her some books about kindergarten (which she loves) and a bit of spending money (which didn’t last long!) She also received some gifts from some of her aunts and uncles who could not be here for the ceremony itself.

But everyone was gracious in allowing the biggest gift to be from me. In truth, it was something she was going to get anyway, but this occasion gave me a good excuse to do so.

As I mentioned before, it was a beautiful evening. And even though my wife’s absence was felt by us all in some capacity, I believe we did all that we could to make it the best celebration we possibly could.

And in the end, that is what truly mattered.


  1. you and your daughter are blessed to have such family and friends in your lives. i understand the feelings you expressed of being hit by the absence of your wife. i'm feeling mine more and more each day now that i'm helping my own daughter plan her wedding. wishing i could talk to him. wishing he could be with us as she tries on wedding gowns. he was the type of man who would have sat through it all, blindingly in awe of our girl. he always said the right things. did the right things. she loved having him in our lives. we at last had a man there with us good enough for her to be a daddy's girl to.

    so i understand your feelings. the person you want most to share this with could not be there. but i'm glad everyone made it a beautiful, if somewhat poignant, memory.

    you and your daughter, as with all i have met in this venue, are in my thoughts and prayers.

  2. The milestones in my kids lives are the ones I find the hardest to deal with in the absence of my wife. I feel much the way you described and my prayers are continuously with you.

    I'm glad they offer a graduation ceremony for the young ones. My kids did not attend preschool but did graduate from Kindergarten. It's amazing how remarkable a seemingly insignificant event can be.

  3. My husband was "lucky" enough to see our eldest daughter graduate from college, but not "lucky" enough to see our youngest son graduate high school.
    My thoughts and prayers are with you and your daughter.

  4. womanNshadows - Whatever the event in our lives, doing it without our spouses will never be easy. Maybe more bearable with each new event, but never easy.

    I read a lot on my phone now, so I don't always get to comment, but wanted to let you know that you are on my mind often, especially when I read about some of the people you've encountered of late.

    The Widower Dad - I was also glad to have the preschool graduation. Sure, it would have been easier if we had simply said our goodbyes on the last day of school and not marked it with a ceremony, but it was an important memory for both of us. And while I'm cognizant of the fact that my daughter's memories all now include the absence of her mother, I am still determined to make them the best they can possibly be. After all, this is her history in the making.

    Anonymous - I am so sorry for your loss. It seems that there is never a good time to lose a parent (for me, it was my dad when I was nine - for my daughter, it was her mommy when she was three), just as there is never a good time to lose a spouse. My heart goes out to you and your children.

  5. I really felt for you as I read this.

    The gravity and importance of these days seems all the greater for the fact that you are the lone parent attending. I always felt (and often still do) that I have a responsibility to see the event through my late wife's eyes as well, since I am representing her, too.

    It feels such a huge responsibility, and thought of so many days like these stretching out for ever and of managing them all alone seems almost unbearable at times.

    And yet -- and yet -- this is the new reality: how life is for your little family now. And you are managing it, and can take huge pride from that. How many other Dads really ever give a second thought to how important these things are. When I go to the school, I see how few other Dads there are, how complacent they often are, how late and irritable they can be in arriving, and how unaware of their importance.

    Your perspective is different -- and that is a gift which you will never lose. Hard as it is, you can take pride in making the day work. There will be more like this ahead, but they get easier.

    Kind regards from London, and spirits up.

  6. Roads - After my dad died there was one phrase I could not stand to hear from other kids - "I hate my dad". My mental response was always "Well at least you have a dad".

    I think you're right about having a different perspective. I'd like to think I'd have been this attentive to my daughter's needs had my wife not passed away, but in truth, there would have been many moments I missed out on simply because they would have occurred during their time together. That's not to say I prefer it this way, only that I am embracing every aspect of my life as it is now.

    As always, thanks for the kind words and wise-perspective.