Why I Cried At My Son's Graduation

The middle-school "culmination" prompted thoughts of the most indelible moments — and tears.

by Janna King • More.com Member { View Profile }

I was not going to cry. I just knew it. I always know I’m going to cry at an event when thinking about that event makes my eyes hot. Hot eyes are the prime indicator that I will cry. My eyes stayed perfectly cool when I thought about my son’s upcoming middle-school graduation. I had zero emotional attachment to the school from which my son was graduating or, rather, “culminating.” Eighth grade graduation is called “culmination,” but wouldn’t it be the middle-school years that were culminating and not my son? I might be wrong, but I’m going to call the event “graduation” anyway.

I had little personal connection to the school because my kids had switched districts just two years earlier. I had no particular bond with the teachers or administrators or coaches, only one crossing guard whom my son and I called “Black Ops Chuck.” Black Ops Chuck was so enthusiastic about ensuring all kids made it across the street safely that we were sure his periodic days off were spent secretly fighting global evil.

At our old school’s silent auctions, I always spent more than I should have on Coach for the Day so I could watch my son lead the bigger kids (i.e. his older sister and her friends) in calisthenics, wearing the whistle around his neck as the two coaches stood on either side of him like protective bodyguards. A round, little cherub, my son enraptured my heart with his wide smile, his big, alternately gleeful then soulful brown eyes and floppy mop of caramel-hued hair. My ex-husband once shaved off the coveted mop during a bout of the dreaded grade-school curse: lice. My ex called the coif a “buzz-cut,” but more than a few people looked at my son’s cue-ball head with cloying sympathy over the chemotherapy they were certain he was facing. Amazingly, my son, who made up silly songs like “Bowel Movement” and wanted to invent a toilet where brick walls magically slide up whenever you have to go, was fine with his shiny pate. His only complaint was that his head was cold. When I saw his “buzz-cut,” which was sent to me via text from his dad’s house, I cried. My eyes get hot just thinking about it.

But I wasn’t going to cry at middle-school graduation. I ironed his emerald green gown, to be worn over black chinos, a white button-down shirt and Size 11 loafers. This was a strikingly different uniform than his usual attire of rock-band tee, long plaid board shorts and Converse sneakers that seemed to suffer blown-out sides no matter how new they were, as if they couldn’t, for one minute longer, contain his perpetually growing feet. My son (who, as a baby, wouldn’t let me put him down ever), at 14, towered over me by six inches. He would pick me up and stomp me around the kitchen just for laughs.

Why a gown is needed for middle-school graduation I’ll never know. To me it’s overkill, like the trophies given out to every child at every karate tournament. It kind of takes away from the real thing. Despite my bristling, I ironed the gown — and I am a terrible ironer as demonstrated by the triangular burn on my son’s school band polo shirt. If you drop a hot iron on synthetic red carpet, do not, and I repeat, do not — place it on a white shirt.

The Big Day arrived without much fanfare. I asked my son if he was nervous. He grunted something akin to “no.” His formerly goofy patter had shrunken to the requisite teen boy one-word answers. A typical conversation went something like this:

“How was school today?


“Whaddya do?”


“Anything new?”


“Are you happy? Do you have anything you want to talk to me about?”

“I’m good, Mom.”

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