My daughter will have five graduations before she is deemed ready for college. Pre-K, K, Elementary, Middle, High School. That’s a lot of pomp and circumstance just so she’s ready to learn the word “heuristic” and be sexually disappointed by a lacrosse player.
That’s not the whole point, though. Let me jump right into the action.
There were three songs in my daughter’s Pre-K graduation ceremony and each kid got a solo. After the third song, the teacher crouch-walked across the stage to a pile of posters in front. Each kid rooted around for her poster as Shakira’s “Try Everything” came on. One by one in time with the music, the kids started showing the crowd their posters: Doctor. Engineer. Architect. Lawyer. Firefighter. Policeperson. I suddenly became very curious because I had no idea what my daughter had chosen. Obviously there were some career-readiness conversations happening in the homes of these other little fuckers. Curiosity turned to nerves as I watched Elizabeth lose focus and start whipping an imaginary hula hoop with her hips – her poster, a precariously-held afterthought, which I feared was about to fly off into the crowd. Eventually it was her turn and, to my surprise, she was ready. With a perfectly-choreographed circular twirl of her hips and shoulders, she flipped up her poster. A triumphant smile flashed across and then faded from her face as the crowd gasped.
Her poster read “Bumblebee.”
A few parents took their phones out and snapped pictures. Then they looked at my wife and me and sneered. After the performance, parents whisked their children away from our daughter like she had been convicted of cannibalism, or, even worse, failing to network in the sandbox.
Later that night an elderly man in a Toyota Camry pulled up to our front lawn and took out what looked to be manikins. By the time I made it out to him, it was clear that he had instead brought incredibly accurate effigies of my entire family, which he intended to burn (judging by the gasoline cans he also brought out). When I asked him who he was, he told me that his name was Gerald Hawkins and that he was a retired schoolteacher and part-time taskrabbit. He was incredibly polite, but unwilling to share any details about who had hired him. Payment was conditional upon anonymity, but I had a few ideas.
The next day my wife called to say that we needed to get to my parents’ place right away. Child Protective Services was there, threatening to take Elizabeth with them. This was the line of questioning we overheard upon our arrival:
“Elizabeth, tell us about your morning.”
“And is that yogurt homemade or store-bought?”
“Whole foods or some other grocery store?”
“And you said that sometimes your grandmother takes you to school. What kind of car does she drive?”
“Certified pre-owned or new?”
They looked at one another.
“What about after school? What do you do when school is done?”
“Are there snacks and news briefings waiting for you in your grandmother’s car?”
“Is that juice cold-pressed or just fresh-squeezed?”
“How much sugar, Elizabeth? HOW MUCH SUGAR!?”
They took a break to take notes.
“Ok, let’s talk about your career. Do you have a life coach?”
“Alright, then have you at least taken a Myers-Briggs test?”
“It’s a- nevermind.”
They took a lot more notes.
“Ok, have your parents asked you what you want to be when you grow up?”
“And what did you say?”
“Yes, we know all about how you want to be a bumblebee. But seriously, what do you want to be?”
“Ok, ok, ok – are you trying to tell us that you want to be an organic, small-batch honey farmer?”
They looked excited.
“And how do you plan to finance that?”
“That means, pay for it. How will you get the money to start your farm?”
“And what kind of interest will your parents charge you?”
“Your parents haven’t taught you about interest?”
More notes. Then they exchanged a meaningful glance and whispered for about 30 seconds.
“Elizabeth, what if we were to offer you a more competitive financing package?”
“What if we were to give you more money than your parents? Would you start your farm earlier?”
Elizabeth looked at us and then back at the CPS workers. I could tell she was over it.
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