Friday, May 20, 2011

Pomp and Circumstance and Pasta Salad

My daughter was graduated from college last weekend.

It was at once like all other graduation ceremonies (black gowns, boring speeches, worries about the weather) and unlike all other graduation ceremonies (because my daughter was one of the participants).  While I sat there, I thought about my own graduation from college 32 years ago.  At the time, I thought I had set my life on a nice, straight track.  

I don’t even have words for how that turned out.

I also thought about how hard my daughter was to nurse.  She was always stopping and looking around, losing interest in the task at hand.  After a few weeks, I thought, To hell with this, and buttoned up.  I thought she was going to be distractible and unfocused, a person who never finished anything.

As it happens, she is still impossible to feed.  She won’t eat most meat, or beans, or bananas, or mashed potatoes.  She still eats cereal dry, with her hands.  When she makes a salad for herself at a salad bar, she returns to the table with a mound of black olives and a mound of shredded carrot and maybe, if she’s feeling adventurous, a slice of cucumber.

But this girl who has never eaten a ham sandwich was just graduated from college.    Over the course of four years, she endured the usual dramas in the housing, friend, boyfriend, and unsympathetic-professor departments, but she persevered.   She wrote a senior thesis in which words like “filmic” and “diegetic” figured prominently.  While she was writing it, she called me a lot, panicking.  But she stayed focused.

Graduation ceremonies are, in at least one way, remarkable.  You—the parents—are all sitting there feeling very private feelings, calling up your own memories.  But inexplicably, alchemically, you feel a connection to all these strangers, and their rightful pride in their children somehow ends up enhancing your pride in yours.

After the ceremony, we ate lunch on one of the college’s beautiful lawns.  My daughter had pasta salad: pasta, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots.  She didn’t eat the lettuce.  She doesn’t like it when the pasta and the lettuce are touching.