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My Super Sweet Sixteen Graduation Party Prom
By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
As a public service to the agricultural community I'd like to remind everyone that it's graduation season in Fort Wayne, and to warn area farmers that extra security will be needed to keep an eye on all the fatted calves roaming free in Allen County farms. Things will be slaughtered in the next few weeks, and garish, opulent spectacles will take center stage in innumerable domiciles across the county, as decent, well-meaning parents will collectively lose their minds and over-indulge their children in obscene celebrations of unhealthy proportions. The parties won't be in honor of the return of the prodigal son, however, but rather triumphant galas for kids completing the merest of accomplishments.
I have zero problems with traditional graduation parties, the annual potato-salad, volleyball mid-afternoon fests, with the ancient aunts stuffed into folding chairs and the occasional drunken outburst from the bitter uncle, while the kids sneak drinks and the $50 checks accumulate on the fishbowl on the buffet table--like everyone I tolerate this tradition and even hold pleasant memories of my own modest celebration. What sends my mind reeling are the plethora of Vegas-and-Prada greedfests that dominate June weekends all over the country, the insane robber baron parties that are the absolute apotheosis of Baby Boomer excess and gaudiness. I am firmly planted in this demographic and I would like to take this opportunity to extend an apology to Mankind for being a part of the worst generation of parents in American history.
If you think that those exorbitant, "My Super Sweet Sixteen" parties and $80,000 proms exist only in depraved California and New York, if you believe the hard-working, common-sense Heartland is immune to this cultural phenomenon, well, you're wrong. And though I know there's no quicker way to get someone to hate you than to tell them that their parenting sucks, what else can you say to someone who rents a stretch limousine for their kid's eighth grade graduation? If I hadn't seen this with my own eyes I wouldn't have believed it, but there it was, last year at my daughter's graduation in Southwest Allen County. And by the way, there wasn't just one limo there — I counted three of those big monsters in the parking lot, awaiting their charges to exit from that important, life-changing moment of graduating from the eighth grade.
Let me table my incredulity at the appearance of the Hummer stretch limousines for just a moment here, and focus on the more immediate surreality — just what the hell are schools doing having eighth grade graduations? Did I miss something? My daughter told me there was a ceremony, so I showed up, not expecting a full-blown, formal-dress commencement, complete with a student-written graduation address, but that's exactly what I was witnessing. I couldn't believe what I was watching, and fortunately, I made eye contact with other embarrassed parents who felt as ridiculous as I did.
Congratulating kids on passing the eighth grade? What, did everybody not expect this to happen? It's like driving to Scott's and having a party for the guy in the Express Lane when he moves up two steps.
I have had too many friends who've been inflicted with life-long scars from cold, indifferent parents not to be sympathetic with the need for a child to feel approval and acceptance, but that doesn't mean it's smart to celebrate every damn event in a kid's life. As Joe Queenan says in his vicious Baby Boomer attack "Balsamic Dreams," we've established the Cult of the Tyke, where incessant attention and focus on kids distorts greatly their place in the scheme of things. I've been to too many dinner parties where the four-year old is the star of the night, and every word the kid utters — no matter how inappropriate — is encouraged and rewarded. Family events just become kid events, which is a real loss, for the kid never learns how to listen to family voices other than his own. There are so many great, fascinating personalites of all ages in most families, terrific, adult-sized storytellers who, if allowed, could dazzle a child with wonder and delight--and yet these voices are (by mutual consent) drowned out in the tyranny of kidspeak.
I know I sound like a typical old Bitterman here, but the fact is, I like kids--hell, I even like my own--and I don't begrudge them their youth just because I'm getting older. Getting older isn't so bad, I'm discovering--I like slowing down, I like not having the energy to pretend that I'm a better person than I really am. I just wish kids would remember that they're not fruitflies, that their life expectancy is seventy-plus years now, and that every tiny bit of incremental growth in their lives doesn't require a Mardi Gras-sized party to mark the date. I'd like to remind their parents of this fact, but they're too busy trying to live their kids' lives for them.
Every reactionary crank has their favorite pop-culture scapegoat for why the world's going to hell and therefore I'd like to submit my own nominee, and no, it's not Grand Theft Auto or Facebook or L'il Wayne or Harold and Kumar. My choice is that Hummer television commercial from 2006, you know the one, the nervous kid going to the new school, first day, Mom's driving, the smirking school kids ready to pounce on him — and then they see he's riding in a Hummer and he's accepted. What a perfect, Baby Boomer lesson. The kid doesn't need to fit in by being, oh, I don't know, a good guy, or having compassion or courage or honesty or intelligence or humor or integrity — nope, he just needs a nice ride and parents with a fat wallet.