Our Story Begins: For Love Or Money?
The Gift I Gave To My Grads
As you read this my two daughters will have graduated.
This would seem an easy, wonderful situation, a rite of passage, a milestone in your life. It is all that.
I had the intense, stressful situation, though, of dealing with two different children graduating two different schools – different grades – on the same day. My middle daughter, Hannah, who is 13, graduated 8th grade. I don’t know if you remember your 8th grade graduation. I certainly don’t, nor did I really care to remember. I know I probably had a small little thing where we got our so-called diplomas and then I went home and had dinner. Then I went to bed.
Hannah’s reception, though, might have rivaled my wedding; it had invitations, RSVP’s, seating charts, reservations, a catered dinner, tablecloths, centerpieces, a photo booth, a photographer, all of that. We had the church ceremony first, which I think I had as well. Then awards . . . lots and lots of awards. This was followed by speeches for salutatorian and valedictorian for 8th grade. This led to the presentation of diplomas. This led to a reception.
I had to skip that reception. You see, I had to attend Abbi’s high school graduation. Having grown up in a different generation in a small town I was not at all prepared for what was coming even in her ceremony. More than 600 kids were graduating. Parents and relatives literally were camping out in order to get seats for the ceremony.
Then came invitations by some kids and their parents with the words, “(insert child’s name here) is registered at Target/Nordstroms/Tiffany”. Registered for presents just like people who are getting married or having their first child. It’s only my opinion here, but nothing says, “I care more about the presents, gift cards and money” than “I’m registered at these stores.”
Don’t get me wrong, I know that graduation is a rite of passage. It certainly is one of those events that you place on your life’s road – a milestone you revisit a lot throughout your life. Quite often I see the irony that my daughter is graduating 25 years after I did. Our high school lives quite often shape what our personalities are while walking life’s road.
But what the RSVP’s, the gifts, the photo booths, the parents living vicariously through their children don’t take into account is what this should all really be about. My daughter sees that reality probably better than most.
Two years ago Abbi lost her Mom, my wife, Andrea. That loss was more than just the emotional loss of her mother going away.
In 2011 we went from being a dual-income family to being a sole breadwinner family in one fell swoop. That led to moving out of our home, changing my job and taking Abbi out of the private school her mother had pushed her to attend.
Nothing is harder than being the new kid in school which is what Abbi was her junior year of high school. We had a shift in attitude as well.
Abbi’s mom measured success in a different way than I did, and part of that came from past experience. My wife had the mistaken attitude that money was far more important to happiness than satisfaction. She hoped job satisfaction would lead to money which would lead to comfort. As a result, she had convinced Abbi, who always wanted to be screenwriter, actor, and theater major, to go into a medical field that would make more money and to use drama as a hobby.
But moving to a new school and having the life-changing event of losing Andrea also changed Abbi’s attitude. I informed her that she should live, not just survive. I told her to be happy, not just secure. As a result, in one of the hardest decisions of her life, my daughter chose to do what made her happy, not just what made her money. I know this sounds the cliche’d platitude but we have seen such hardship and difficulty that our measure of happiness was far different than it used to be.
So I looked at what “events” these graduations have become and realize so much of it is about the parents, not the kids. So much is about the “stuff” . . . the gifts and the cake and the parties. But what we have come to realize is that registering for gifts isn’t what’s important.
Today I beam with some pride because my daughters may have had less than the kids around them, but they both said they’ve gained so much more. That makes me proud.
What about you? Do you push your kids to do things they don’t want to do? Did you make a bigger deal of 8th grade graduation than high school? Is this about your kids, or about you?
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Dave Manoucheri is a writer, journalist and musician based in Sacramento, California. A father of four, two daughters and twin sons, his blog, Our Story Begins is a chronicle of their life after the loss of his wife, Andrea, in March of 2011. Follow him on Twitter @InvProducerMan.