Celebration Burn Out

My kid is a 5th grader at a wonderful school in a fabulous school system.  I should be thankful for my lucky circumstances, but this is my day to complain about First World Problems.  I’m all hot and bothered about 5th Grade Graduation.

Recently I received an email saying that “the 5th grade class will be handling the food and slushy sales at the upcoming school picnic,”  to raise money for festivities relating to their anticipated graduation.  “OK,” I’m thinking, “so the kids will sell stuff at the picnic.  What does this have to do with me?”

Not so fast!  Closer examination of the email revealed that the PARENTS, not students, are expected to man the sales table.  But of course we are.  This is the new normal.  The kids will graduate.  The parents will fete them as if they are the first kids ever to master the rigors of elementary school.


The disconnect between the importance of a particular childhood milestone and the related adult-run celebration is disturbing. It starts early.  Tomes have been written about new discoveries in potty training, and they all seem to recommend a “potty party” when the child successfully matriculates from Diaper U.  Sweets, gifts, even guests (Stuffed animals!  Dolls!) are a part of this event.  Really?  For controlling a basic bodily function like every other human being on the planet (not to mention your pets)?


The overpriced, nationally branded private daycare my son attended actually hosted a pre-school graduation.  This institution, whose franchises populate the outer parking lots of strip malls across the country, took itself way too seriously.  And yet we (the parents) gamely played along, taking time off work (wait, wasn’t this supposed to be daycare?) to watch our little Einsteins march in a line and sing a little song. The kid even wore gold tassels on their school-branded caps (do tassels hang to the left or the right when you haven’t yet started kindergarten?).  I was jubilant inside, but not because my son was graduating.  I was excited about my upcoming emancipation from the monthly “tuition” bills.  At least public kindergarten would be free.


I could go on about the prizes and awards for other non-events in my kids’ lives (certificates of participation, ribbons and trophies for showing up, public applause for merely having a birthday).  It’s all part of living in a hyper kid-focused world where the grownups don’t have enough to do.  But this 5th grade graduation thing still rubs me the wrong way.

My child will be treated like a walking miracle for the last year of elementary school.  She’ll participate in a special talent show, perform in the 5th grade musical, and give a class gift (selected by the parents and paid for with money raised by…wait for it…the parents!).  I know, I know – the kids will have a car wash.  After last year’s graduates had theirs, the parent in charge bragged that “some of the cars looked actually clean!”  Ha ha.  There was no serious connection between the kids’ labor and the resulting money they “earned.”

But their parents sure stay busy!  They run fundraisers (see above), publish the yearbook (painstakingly placing each sweet darling’s current school photo beside his/her kindergarten one, just to show how hard our babes have worked on their growing), and create a really nice graduation slide show.  But the kids basically float through school on a pillow of “good job!” stickers and gold stars.  No extra effort required.

good job

I’m not a total killjoy. Sometimes kids do work hard and overcome obstacles, and some things ARE worth celebrating.  Like riding a bike.  If you can conquer the fear of falling, take tumbles, and try again (scraped knees and all), that deserves respect!  A struggling reader who sits for an hour just to get through a really challenging book?  Bravo to that kid!  My son learned to play the violin.  He can actually make music with that delicate combination of wood, strings, and horsehair, and it’s legitimately impressive.  I tell him so.

But I can’t get too excited about graduating from 5th grade.  Almost everyone does it.  It requires nothing outside the norm, nothing unexpected.  When we celebrate everything, we celebrate nothing – and kids know it.  And the more parents “own” the whole thing, the more it becomes about us, not them.

kids workingWhat if the students took the initiative and ran their own fundraisers, organized their own talent show, and made their own yearbook?  That would be something to celebrate!  I’d even plan the party.

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