Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Graduation Obsession

I am the first to want to celebrate my children's achievements, and I'm eternally thankful that there's a lot to celebrate.  But, what's with this endless graduation obsession?

Let me explain...  tonight, one of my beloved sons is graduating...  for the fourth time in his life.  He is fourteen.  You see, there was the Teens and Tots (preschool) graduation (he may have attended two of these, therefore making tonight his fifth matriculatory celebration), his kindergarten graduation, his elementary school graduation and, now, his middle school graduation.  This will be the third set of such proceedings that I will have attended, my daughter and elder son already having passed the middle school mark, and I pretty much know what to expect.

First, the endless listing of awards and achievements.  There are at least twenty-four categories (Presidential Achievement, never missed a day of school, only went to the rest room during class breaks, etc., etc.), and all of these awards will be distributed among the same six or seven students.

Following the awards, there will be a speech, maybe two, by the most popular children in the "graduating" class.  Every third word will be "like" and we will be treated to, like, learning how they have, like, matured and learned a lot in, like, the past three years.  The words "destiny" and "journey" will be trotted out, followed by hoots from their classmates and cheers like, "Yooooah!  Kenzie!  Wooo!" (I am pretty certain at least one of the speakers will be named "Kenzie" in most middle school graduation ceremonies throughout the United States this year.  The other is probably a "Michaela" or a "Madison").

We can't forget the music.  Choirs will sing perfectly inappropriate music for such ensembles, or for people of middle school age for that matter.  There is a lot of really beautiful choral music out there, but it never seems to be sung by school choirs.  Instead, a retrospective of love songs from the 80's will be performed and lyrics about "makin' love" will come from the angelic faces of the sixth and seventh grade set.  Yes, kids, now that you've passed through the middle school mark, you truly will be able to "fly like and eagle."

The choir will not be the highlight of this evening's musical offerings, though.  Oh, no.  There will be the soloist.  That one, poor girl in the spangly dress - far, far too tight and painfully short - precariously balanced on stiletto heels that could easily have been purchased at Frederick's of Hollywood, singing a Lady Gaga song meant to somehow inspire, and to prove that this girl is headed for American Idol!  Maybe, if you're in a more rural setting, something by Carrie Underwood will be substituted.  It too will be totally inappropriate, completely off tune and utterly heart-rending in it's awfulness.  But, in spite of it all, Shanti's father will be standing in the bleachers, alone, clutching a massive balloon bouquet to his chest, swaying to the music.  At the end of it all, the crowd will cheer, painfully aware that this was probably the musical highlight of this budding performer's life.

And now, the moment we've all been waiting for...  the presentation of "Certificates of Completion".  Each and every name is called (you had no idea that your child's school had 400 eighth graders).  To some is given a massive cheer - "Whoooooo!  Austin!  Yeaaaah!".  Others will get the, "We love you!!!" , generally shouted by the sixth grade girls who have been infatuated with this "graduate" since he played the title role in last year's musical production of "Bye, Bye Birdie".  Then there are those poor children who receive the barely audible, rather pathetic, smattering of pitiful "we have no idea who you are" applause.  And, finally, those students who have reached the apex of their family's educational accomplishment - completion of the eighth grade!  "You go McKenzie!!! We didn't think you'd make it!!!"  (Yes, I really have heard those precise words at one of these events.)

Once all of the "certificates" (at least they don't actually call them "diplomas") are passed out, the audience can see the briefest of lights at the end of the tunnel.  It's the Principal's turn (we have two co-principals...  that's twice the fun!).  Words like, "future", "responsibility", "achievement", "you can do anything you want in life" (except shrink-wrapping the Principal's car like last year!) will be pronounced.

Finally, at long last...  the thank yous.  This will be the longest part of the evening.  Volunteers, other parents, classified staff who are paid too little but receive a dinky Safeway bouquet at the end of the school year, and that one staff member who has nothing better to do in life than to devote every waking moment to these middle schooler's fundraisers, field trips, bottle drives, spaghetti feeds, musicals, plays and choir concerts will be brought forth.  Her mid-eighties, blond, tightly permed pageboy hairstyle in place, clad in her special "graduation" vest and turtleneck, Mrs. Smith will receive the appreciation of staff and students alike, and you will finally see the face behind the endless emails requesting help for "Popcorn Day", "Staff Appreciation Day" (I believe in real businesses that's actually called "payday"), and any number of field trips and events.

At long last, it's over.  Really over.  The bleachers you've been sitting on for two and a half hours start to shake violently as everyone rises, the airless gym begins to empty, your spasmed back begins to loosen and you can now find your graduate and drop them off at the "all-night" pizza party (be sure to pick them up promptly at 10 pm).

I don't want to sound like the Scrooge of "graduations", but judging by the fact that what used to be a virtually non-existent event in my not-so-long-past school years has now become virtually akin to the real graduation - high school- I think it's time to take a step back.  Celebrate!  Have fun!  But, perhaps, we could do it without "Pomp and Circumstance", mortarboards and shouts of, "Sammi!!!!  We can't believe you finally passed eighth grade!!!!!  Wooooohoooo!"

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Holiday Food - Memorial Day

Like most people, I believe that particular foods go with particular holidays and Memorial Day is no exception.  Somehow, holiday eating is more about comfort and nostalgia than gourmet experimentation.  For example, I am no great fan of Jell-O and her many associated "salads", but none of the winter festivities are complete without Oreange Dreamsicle Salad. 

For me, Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day are virtually interchangeable when it comes to the menu.  What are your favorite dishes for the summer holidays?  Are there any that a long gone relative used to make that you pine for?

In my opinion, it just isn't a holiday picnic without Shrimp Macaroni Salad.  This is something my mother would often make in the summer, and something I'd frequently request for my birthday.  One of the benefits of getting older and being the family cook is that I can make these traditional recipes conform to my tastes.  As a confirmed raw onion hater, I no longer have to pick through the mayonnaise dressed macaroni to remove these awful, crunchy little chunks.  My mother still tries to "fool" me when she makes this or potato salad...  Onion powder and, even worse, dried, minced onions are just as bad, Mom...

But, I digress.  Like so many of these kinds of recipes, there are no exact measurments.  It all depends on how many people you have to feed and what ratio of mayonnaise to mac you prefer.  So, feel free to ignore my measurement suggestions here and make it to your taste!

Shrimp Macaroni Salad

1 package of salad macaroni, boiled until it is tender but firm, drained and rinsed in cold water
1 cup of Best Foods (Hellman's) mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste
4 hard cooked eggs, peeled and roughly chopped
1 small jar sweet gherkins, drained and roughly chopped
2 cans of tiny, pink shrimp (fresh shrimp will do as well)

Combine all of the above and serve well-chilled.