A mere five years after holding my newborn fraternal twin girls in my arms, I’ve just watched them graduate pre-school. When I was young, we marked the transition out of high school, college, and that was it. Has our culture—and I—gone too far with celebrations?
Motivations for celebrations
When I was a kid, celebrations of birthdays and other personal milestones were modest. Family, a few friends, a few gifts, fun. But now I see parents of kids who haven’t reached kindergarten renting out kiddie-playland gyms and inviting dozens of children and families for big parties. I see elaborate Bar Mitzvah bashes and sweet-sixteen shindigs. Celebrations for graduations at almost every academic level are added to the calendar. I hear complaints that parents are going overboard, being too commercial or materialistic.
Are such celebrations good or bad? It depends. If the goal of parents is to show off to other parents, the answer is “Bad!” Or if parents somehow equate monetary expenditures with loving their children, again, their values are mixed up to say the least.
If, on the other hand, the parents just want to see their children delighted, well, I cannot think of a more delightful thing than that!
In the case of my girlies’ pre-school graduation, my motivation was more multifaceted. I wanted to celebrate their achievement and to instill in them the value of achieving.
Child-rearing: raising human beings
In Atlas Shrugged the heroine Dagny Taggart encounters a young woman and her husband who have retreated from the world with their two young sons. The boys “had the open, joyous, friendly confidence of kittens” and a “non-boastful sense of their own value.” They had “the eager curiosity that would venture anywhere.” The woman explains that she seeks “to bring up my sons as human beings. I would not surrender them to the educational systems devised to stunt a child’s brain, to convince him that reason is impotent, that existence is an irrational chaos with which he’s unable to deal, and thus reduce him to a state of chronic fear.”
My wife Talia and I put our daughters in a small co-op school. That meant we and the other parents were not only investing our money but also our time and effort into our kids’ education. Parents would help in classrooms and assist with fundraising and other school activities. My wife especially came to know the other parents as well as the children who had become our daughters’ friends. And we parents, from America, India, Japan, Korea, Jordan, Colombia, and all over the world, were united in the goal of seeing that our children learn.
Education for the love of learning
Over the past two years, we have watched our daughters’ love for learning and achievement grow. We’ve tried to instill those values in them at home all along. They’ve eagerly told us about their daily activities, shown us their arts and crafts projects, which have grown in sophistication, and they have asked lots and lots of questions!
Their graduation was well attended. My parents, brother, and his wife joined us. The ceremony featured the kids singing songs, with good melody and harmony all around. There was a slideshow with photos of each child, from when they were babies, to toddlers, to the beginning of pre-school and culminating with them in little caps and gowns. The children pointed and chattered with joy as they watched their friends’ pictures appear: “It’s Sophia! It’s Allegra! It’s Naomi! It’s Samara!”
Of special interest were the answers to the various “What do you want to be or do when you grow up?” questions in the program and yearbook. Our Sophia wants to be Supergirl and to go into space. Our Allegra wants to be a mommy and also go into space. Daddy’s telescope has had an influence! And many of the other children wanted to be doctors and scientists.
The ceremony was followed by a party for parents and relatives, with munchies—mostly supplied by the parents—cake, and even a magic show. The kids loved the celebration. The parents and relatives loved the celebration.
And I’m sure Talia and I were not the only parents who said to our children, “We are so proud of you. You have done a great job. And we are so excited because you are so excited about moving on to kindergarten. We love you!”
If this isn’t worth celebrating, nothing is!
Edward Hudgins, “Take Your Daughters to Work Day.” April 29, 2016.
William Thomas, “Parental Obligations.” September 28, 2010.