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Charlie Graduated Middle School, on to NY & DC

The teachers, school board members and other dignitaries with the graduating class watching the audience of parents, family members and friends. Charlie is in the back row, almost invisible here, I think right in front of the second flagpole from his right. It was a suitably dramatic environment, with the audience filling a natural ampitheater.

You’re right, in a way. Graduating Middle School is par for the course. If you start middle school in a nice suburb, chances are that you’ll finish it. So long as you avoid the temptations that tempt 12 and 13 year-olds nowadays – and if you don’t know what they are, think about what tempted you when you were 18 or 20 – you will probably get through the three years relatively unscathed. Charlie did.

But nonetheless, for him personally it was quite an achievement, a little more than just showing up on the day in nicer clothes than he had worn every other day of the school year and picking up a diploma. I can’t say why, I can’t explain what happened, because he was only 14 when the the things happened that made this graduation an achievement. You often can’t talk about the real things that happen to children of that age. Everyone agrees about that, even the children.

Here he is, at the top of the steps that all the graduates walked down before sitting with their peers and then receiving their diplomas.

But I do wonder. I remember being Charlie’s age and thinking that adult conspiracies of silence about things that any child with half a brain could see made all adults appear to be total hypocrites. I was right then, and on some level it could be the same now. Maybe Charlie sees that too. He didn’t say so about these particular events. He just told me not long after the graduation that I thought I knew everything and I was wrong. Maybe so.

But I will tell you this, because I am his dad and very proud of my boy. Charlie got into this chain of events, a chain that was very difficult for him without being anything illegal, immoral or wrong on his part, mostly because he’s very kind. Others see that, and look to him precisely for that kindness. For him it’s a blessing, and sometimes it’s a curse. That’s how human gifts are, even more when you’re not fully grown.

A handshake from his Principal, a diploma slipped into his other hand, a pose for the professional photographer on hand to record the event, and he was done! Way to go, kiddo!! We realize that the preceding three years involved substantially more effort!

But because he was kind, he managed to extricate himself this time around without anyone being really hurt. He thought it through, and by himself came up with a strategy for dealing with the problem, a strategy that worked because it was kind and careful and he thought it through to the last detail. It was incredible planning for a 14 year-old. Honestly. If I could tell you more, you would be more than suitably impressed. You would congratulate him, and really mean it.

I can tell you that part of his strategy involved enlisting the help of the adults around him. In this case, his mother and I were not included. We had only separated a couple of months or so before graduation, and apparently were not yet trustworthy. We might use any predicament of his against each other, which he absolutely wanted to avoid. Instead, he went to his Principal at the school, an able young woman with whom he had a great rapport.

Maman and dad flanking the graduate and behaving themselves in honor of the occasion.

In the press of events leading up to the end of the school year, she then forgot that he wanted to see her to talk about something important. Unperturbed, and with great pragmatism, a few days later Charlie approached a teacher he trusted and told her that he had something important to discuss. She made time for him right away, and then raised what he had told her with the Principal. She duly called in his parents. That was how we found out about it, the chain of events.

It was a done deal. Charlie had brought in the adult support system that he needed in a timely manner, they did what they could to help him, and he did what he had to do. It was extraordinary how well he planned it and carried it out, by himself, with the adults at school as full of admiration as his parents. We couldn’t exactly do anything, which ultimately may be the real tragedy of being a parent, but we were there where he thought (accurately) that we should be, backing him up.

And the gang was all there! Only Tom, still living in Paris, and Alban, who had recently started a new job, couldn’t make it. Alex, Daphne and Nick joined maman and me in wishing Charlie well.

Okay, so this is vague, and I apologize, but it cannot be clearer. Just as it cannot be clearer, and this is not just a proud dad saying it, how well Charlie handled the first real emotional crisis of his young life.

His only complaint, a few weeks later, was how it had almost ruined his graduation. Well, these photos testify that “almost” was the right word. Because of his own premature wisdom and thoughtfulness, Charlie saved his own graduation from Middle School. While he couldn’t have a perfect time – the events milling around him were too serious for that – he did okay, and we all pitched in, from his Principal and teachers on down through his family to his buddies, to help. His memories, like these pictures will be fine.

Most importantly, because this is the age when the social world eclipses all others, his buddies, fellow graduates, were on hand to congratulate each other.

Then came a piece of luck. Every year, his Middle School has a trip back east for graduating eighth graders. We had signed Charlie up for this trip way before any of the unfortunate events occurred. Departure was two days after graduation. So Charlie got to leave all the events behind in an eight-day trip around Washington DC, Philadelphia, even New York City. The perfect antidote to an emotional crisis.

Regretfully, no parents were invited. We did fish around earlier in the year, asking Charlie and his teachers whether other parents ever took trips back East at the same time as their children, not staying with the school but nearby and meeting up occasionally. No, this did not happen. EVER!!! So we were informed. To be frank, we were not surprised and barely took issue with such a self-evident position.

With a few friends.

We found ourselves at the school late in the evening when the coaches came to pick up the graduates and take them to Oakland International Airport for the JetBlue redeye to DC. None of the children, all eighth graders, seemed particularly sad to leave their loving parents behind!

The only real problem with our absence from the trip is that we are unable to give it much context. But perhaps the context is obvious.  80 eighth graders with a few teachers and chaperones traveling from motel to hotel, four in a room, back East for nine days. Yep, that gives the picture, pretty much!

The efforts of the teachers who organized the trip can only be lauded, because somehow they managed to ensure that their young charges actually learned something, on the days that they could stay awake, that is! They traveled to Williamsburg, Jamestown, Arlington Cemetery and Washington.  They continued to Gettysburg, Philadelphia and New York.

You can see where they are here!

In Washington, they all visited the Washington Monument, the US Capitol, the US Holocaust Museum, the House of Representatives, the Smithsonian and Ford’s Theater. In Philadelphia, they took in Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. In New York, they visited Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, Greenwich Village, Rockefeller Center, Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  WOW!! What a trip!!

The first few of these pictures are among the hundreds that the thoughtful teachers on the trip posted on Flickr for the child-sick parents they knew were aching to hear about their children, if not from their children. So we do have a bit of a picture of how it all went. Very well. Needless to say, all involved had a blast.

The entire group in Times Square. Charlie is in a green T-shirt in the middle on our left. Thank you everybody involved in planning and chaperoning what was obviously a dream trip for all involved.

The last picture here came home after the trip was complete. In New York City, they all actually went to see a Broadway musical, West Side Story, and in Times Square a local professional took this one. Isn’t it amazing? Do you remember your first trip to the big city?

Charlie told me that this was his favorite song from the musical:

“Dear kindly Sergeant Krupke
You gotta understand
It’s just our bringin’ upke
That gets us out of hand
Our mothers all are junkies
Our fathers all are drunks
Golly Moses, naturally we’re punks.”

Thank you, Stephen Sondheim, but otherwise, no comment!