How do I feel about my child’s kindergarten “graduation”? (Hint: the ironic quotation marks are a signal that you might want to brace yourself for a rant and here it comes.)

People, this is kindergarten! When I was a kid, we didn’t have graduations. We were delirious with happiness if, as was the fabled tradition at Teller Elementary, no one beat us up on the last day of school when we trekked a mile home in the snow. (OK, it was June and a four block walk. Details.) Putting on all that pomp and circumstance as if they were graduating from medical school is just one more example of how our “You did it!” ribbon-fetishizing society now rewards kids if they succeed in putting their shoes on in time for school.

The Grinch who stole kindergarten graduation

This pretty much sums up my Grinchy outlook this time last week when it dawned on me that along with my son’s eighth-grade graduation in two weeks, I was going to have to take off yet another day of work that — along with so many furlough days — chips away at precious family vacations. The kindergarten graduation ceremony is at 11:30 a.m., there is a picnic lunch afterwards, and then parents are told, “You’re welcome to take your child home.” Geesh.

Before someone hands me the Mommy Dearest Award, I’ll come clean and confess that my heart grew three times that day when I stepped into the school auditorium that was filled to standing capacity by family members clutching video cameras and bouquets of flowers. The giant rainbow arc of balloons festooning the stage had transformed our dilapidated, plain Jane public school auditorium into a beautiful Broadway showgirl.

Mini-me college graduates

The kindergartners, sitting in the front two rows, looked like mini-me college grads: boys in jackets and ties and girls in Sunday best dresses, nearly all wearing light-up sneakers. (Why don’t they make those for grown-ups?)

I looked at my daughter who had been such a nervous wreck the night before because they were going to have to sing in public – terrifying for her – and she was beaming. “I’m so proud of you,” said one kindergarten teacher, before handing out diplomas as each young graduate marched saucily up on stage. “Now you’re first graders.”

Talk about a doh moment. Between the time I went to elementary school and now, some wise educators figured out that making a big deal of finishing the first year of real school sends a message to students that what they’ve done is important. It acknowledges that the effort they’ve put in to work and play with others, to read and write, add and subtract, is something to celebrate.

This rite-of-passage also gives them a chance, as any significant ceremony does, to take stock of their life and look forward to the next chapter. “I’m so excited to go into a number grade,” my friend Vicki’s son told her as he was graduating from kindergarten. Figuratively, and literally, if they weren’t before, the kids are counting on school now.