How My Son’s 8th Grade Graduation Made Me Realize I Had No Business Going To My 30th Reunion

May and June are not just for weddings. It’s also the graduation and reunion season. I’m not good at big events even though I truly wish I was one of those people who can glide effortlessly through hours and days of celebrations, small talk and smiling for the camera.  I know for certain that life is easier for those festive easygoing types.   

Planned events make me twitch.

My 30th high school reunion is next weekend.  It’s one of those things that happens when you’re almost fifty.  If I grew up on a normal trajectory, my 30th reunion would have occurred last year.  Instead I got an extra junior year in boarding school to make up for a catawampus fall semester swirling the drain in my hometown and a spring semester living with my Aunt Joanne and Uncle John in Trumansburg.

No I wasn’t pregnant, although that was the rumor.

My parents decided that they couldn’t fix me.  Aunt Joanne and Uncle John had a history of straightening out the cousins who went off course.  I wasn’t exactly a bad kid.  I was a cigarette smoking, Boone’s Farm drinking, walk-down-the-railroad-tracks-after-school kind of bad.  It was small town boredom and I didn’t see a bigger, brighter alternative.

It turns out that Aunt Joanne and Uncle John couldn’t fix me either.

So it was off to Northfield Mount Hermon, a boarding school in western Massachusetts.  Because my first junior year was a bit of mess, the plan was for me to repeat the year.  My advisor’s logic was that it would erase my first go-round as a junior and help to get me back on my academic feet.  In an instant my place in the ranks of the class of 1982 changed to the class 1983. It turns out that Northfield Mount Hermon did fix me.

Every time I think of the school, I thank my lucky stars for the fortunate turn in the road that got me there.  At the time I was incapable of understanding the significance of the opportunity but I took it nonetheless.  The enormous gratitude I feel for that second chance swayed me to think that I was capable of attending the weekend-long reunion in spite of my past head-on collisions with big events.  That and the constant stream of reunion invitations appearing in my mailbox and Facebook page.

My track record with all things pomp and circumstance is ridiculous.  I completely blocked out my high school graduation except for a blurry vision of myself in an ugly polka-dotted dress.  I didn’t attend my college graduation and spawned a first-born who refused to attend his high school graduation.  I made another attempt when I finished my master’s program.  The University of Texas scheduled the ceremony for the School of Social Work poolside at the aquatic center.  It was like getting my diploma at a swim meet.

Eli’s 8th grade graduation last week threw a much needed glass of cold water on my delusion that I could go to my 30th reunion.  I held to the hope that his ceremony was going to be different, maybe even perfect.  In this fantasy we all would be dressed nicely, cry appropriately, take lovely family pictures and go to dinner.

Piece of cake.

I will not go into too many details in order to protect the guilty.  Let’s just say that my second son also exhibits symptoms of a deep dislike of ceremonies and formal wear.  The tone was set when we were all running late.  I left without earrings and makeup on one eye.  There was screaming and crying on the drive.  Before we left the house Eli announced that he was not going to the planned school dinner after the ceremony but I figured he would come around.  A contrarian to the core, I have watched him soften and change his mind a million times.

My fantasy didn’t have a chance.  There were no pictures or dinner.  His version of perfect was to go home and start his summer.

After the graduation experience I stopped looking for last minute flights to Boston. Although I have never been to a reunion, I know I would not do it well.  My children have confirmed that I have an anti-ceremony gene.  There is something about the confines of event-generated emotional expectations that just makes me crazy.

I absolutely treasure my time at Northfield Mount Hermon but I don’t have to attend my reunion to prove it to myself.  I’m not like the smiling people in the reunion propaganda emails who have kept in touch with their friends from school. Sometimes I wish I was but I accept that I’m not.

I have built another life – a good life.  My most meaningful days tend to be the ones that just appear and often come in small packages like playing ping pong in the backyard or a spontaneous beer on the porch with a friend. I do have to admit that there is a quiet voice that says that it just might be different with the girls.

A graduation or two will tell.

2 thoughts on “How My Son’s 8th Grade Graduation Made Me Realize I Had No Business Going To My 30th Reunion

  1. Wow. I relate. I have a girl, and I suspect she will follow me in the avoidance of reunions/ceremonies, although who knows. I admit that I’ve wondered if a “redo” year at boarding school might be in her future. To know it can be life-changing and
    -affirming is heartening. Although most of my year was spent in Houston, my summers were spent in small-town Jersey, smoking cigs down by the tracks, drinking whatever was in the brown bag. Not such “bad” girls often grow to be open and thoughtful women.

  2. Nicole, My redo year saved me. If you ever want to talk about it, let Matthew give you my number. We live in such an extroverted society. I think the ranks of the not-so-bad-teens are filled with introverts and observers. It’s hard to find your way when you don’t want to join the crowd and don’t really understand why. If you are one of those kids, the vacuum it creates can be paralyzing if you don’t have an alternative passion that trumps passivity.

    Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. I really appreciate it.


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