The Graduate

I slapped my boy hard in the face on the day of his high school graduation.
That was Saturday.
But to be fair, he asked me to.

His was the first ceremony of the day, which meant that alarms were going off in the house by 6 a.m. that morning. I was the only one hearing them and spent the next 30 minutes trying to get people out of bed. I finally managed to make Brady hear his own, and he got up and put on his graduation outfit. Normally, I would write more about the ceremony than I would about the getting ready process. But in this case, the morning routine was almost more notable. And it deserves a little ink.

If you don’t know Brady, and you don’t really know me, this story may not mean very much. We were both very much in character on Saturday morning. That’s not necessarily a good thing. My oldest boy graduated high school with the class of 2020, which is to say that he didn’t cross any kind of a physical stage. Covid killed everything that year. Actual classes. School trips. Proms. Graduation parties. And graduations themselves.

That being the case, there was a lot of unused potential energy and high expectations rolled up into Brady’s event on Saturday. I was already leaking a little from the eyes on Friday night. My kid who potty trained himself because he didn’t like to be damp and who spent all of 2009 clinging to whatever I was wearing on my legs was about to be done with school. I went to sleep on Friday night with a taut sheet of emotion stretched from my forehead to my chest. I was feeling it all.

But I woke up fine. Five different alarm clocks going off like a row of casino games will do that for a person. I went downstairs to deal with the dog. By the time I got back upstairs, Brady was wearing his gown over his dress pants and shirt and fussing with his cap.

“This cap does NOT fit over my hair,” he said, examining himself in a full-length mirror that is, for some reason, hung at a 45° angle on his wall. I’ve never thought to ask him why and didn’t on Saturday morning. But nothing fits over his hair, so I didn’t touch that one either. “And how do you get the wrinkles out of this gown?” He looked over his shoulder to me, hoping for an easy solution.

“You take it out of the plastic shrink wrap and unfold it before the morning of graduation?” I answered. “Want me to do something with it?” I hoped he didn’t want me to do something with it. He needed to be out the door within 15 minutes.

“They said no ironing or dryer. They said steamer only,” he replied.

“Well, I guess we go as is then.”

“Guess so.”

At this point in the process, he was practically out the door. There was nothing else to put on, plan, or struggle with. It was time to go. That’s when he walked out into the hallway.

“Can I drive Dad’s car?” He asked sheepishly. Oh. Hmm. Well. I mean it hasn’t been 6 weeks since two of our cars were totaled, so I’m not sure he’ll be excited about this possibility. But I poked my head in my bedroom to ask Todd and he agreed.

This is the point in the morning where the tide turned from relaxed to frenzied. He lowered himself into the fathermobile and began to connect his phone to the car’s bluetooth system. Except that it wasn’t working. With each attempt to connect, the tension within us and between us went up a notch. He was already going to be at least 5 minutes late. I’m all about punctuality, but I mean, I get it. I like my tunes. Being subjected to what some DJ thinks I ought to be listening to is often painful. So I continued to watch the bluetooth misfires as we communicated in tight knots of tone and message.

“Dude, you gotta go,” I said for at least the third time. “You gotta give this up.”

He couldn’t give it up.
+Add a Device
Connect to Bluetooth
Connect to Bluetooth
If you would please I beg of you CONNECT ALREADY TO THE BLUETOOTH.

Nothing.

“Dude,” I started again. Sometimes I’m under the impression that if I use casual words like “dude,” no one will notice the unnaturally high pitch my voice takes on in the moment. “If the music is that important, go get in your car and drive away.”

“My car seats are still soaked from fishing.” Of course. Even so, he got out and was now standing in a flowing, wrinkled red robe in my driveway, wedged between two decisions: fish seats and bluetooth or leather seats and 80s karaoke.

He was now officially late and not even sitting in a car yet. I started to say “dude” again but he cut me off at the pass.

“OK, OK,” he paced for a minute. “I’m going. I’m going in Dad’s car.”

“Without music?” I asked.

“Without music,” he answered. “OK, I’m going.”
He wasn’t though. He was still standing there. I grabbed his face in my hands and tried to drum up a less frustrated pep talk. I could tell he was struggling. I didn’t want him struggling an hour before this milestone event.

“I’m sorry.” He had a tortured look in his eyes.

“You don’t need to be sorry,” I said. “But you do need to go.”

“Slap me,” he said, with his face still in my hands.

“What?” I asked. I had heard him. But it was a strange request.

“Slap me,” he repeated.

So I slapped him. But not very hard.

“Slap me again,” he repeated. I slapped him again.

“Again,” he said. “Harder.” This time I came at him with both hands on both cheeks. I popped him slightly harder, but it just didn’t feel right to me.

“One more time,” he said. “Really go for it this time.”

So I did.
On the morning of my boy’s high school graduation, I doublehand slapped him across his face.

And it fixed everything. He happily got into that bluetoothless car and drove away.

And graduated.

I think there’s some sort of metaphorical significance to the slapping and the driving away, but it isn’t working in my favor to analyze that. And I really don’t want to think about it anymore.

Because he still drove away.

And as much as I have enjoyed every individual last fraction of a second I have spent with this amazing manchild, it’s his turn to drive away. And it’s my job to let him.