This past weekend my wife graduated from nursing school, an accomplishment that is massive to someone like me whose employable skills involve overanalyzing Doctor Who and ranking video game farts. I couldn't be more proud of her, and of course I wanted to celebrate her victory over academia by attending her graduation ceremony.
Now, I have a four-year-old daughter, and like all four-year-olds, she lives in pathological fear that someone somewhere might be getting more attention than her. Still, it was important to my wife that she be present at both ceremonies. (Nurses have a special pinning ceremony in addition to a regular graduation.) That means that I had to basically corral the girl-child for around five hours all told through something even grown people feel gets pretty boring.
I did not do a very good job at this. If you've got a graduation coming up, here's a few pieces of advice I have for you.
Bring Food Unless you have some sort of metabolism or blood-sugar problem, adults just don't think about food all that much. You eat when you eat, and yeah, if it's a long time between meals, that sucks, but if you're stuck in an auditorium listening to someone read an academic phone book and there's no grub to be had, you shrug your shoulders and deal.
Kids don't think that way. If there's no food to be had, they honestly believe that conjuring it requires merely asking louder. Do yourself a favor and pack a sandwich bag full of goldfish crackers, grapes, trail mix or whatever you happen to have handy that won't smell or require cleanup. Trust me, no parent has ever regretted packing a snack...unless they forget about it in a bag and find out months later it's acquired sentience and malevolence, but that's always happening when you're a parent.
Bring Something Electronic With Headphones Look, graduation is a solemn and important institution, but let's not confuse it with church or something. All anyone is here for really is to cheer when the people you love get their names read aloud and they walk across the stage. Even if you enjoy the speeches that get made, you're only really invested in a fraction of the running time.
Feel free to let your kid occupy him or herself with a LeapPad or 3DS or something with headphones on until the moment comes around. We streamed Netflix episodes of Powerpuff Girls to my iPhone until whispered arguments over volume rendered the whole thing moot. Hence, the headphones.
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Take Your Pictures Early Everyone wants that shot of the new grad with his or her pretend diploma, of course, but after a couple of hours of being forced to sit still, a young kid is probably not going to be in the mood to please anyone. Coaxing a smile out of someone who feels she's been deprived of valuable putting-capes-on-the-cat time to drive out to a strange building and hear people clap for mispronunciations of people's names will be difficult.
Try to get as many pictures as you can when you first arrive. That way, the experience is still something new and exciting to a kid instead of the end of a long ordeal. You'll get a way better quality of picture that way.
Bring a Cuddle Friend One thing I did anticipate for the graduation was separation anxiety. Not that my daughter has any trouble being away from either myself or my wife. She's more than comfortable in a variety of settings with either or neither of us.
A graduation is a little different, though. She could see my wife, but wasn't allowed to go and hug her or talk to her or ask her things. Parents who have held their heads in their hands while trying to poop behind a locked door while a toddler kicks and cries on the other side will recognize this phenomenon.
A two-foot-tall stuffed Pinkie Pie wasn't much of a substitute for her mother, but it did take the edge off some of the anxiety. In a pinch, they can also serve as makeshift pillows.
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Do a Countdown There is at least one thing that you can do with a kid that might keep her occupied. And it helps with reading comprehension as well if you're looking to boost that.
In your commencement program, find the name of the person you're there for. Circle it, and number the names backwards to the first. That way, you can continuously show your child where you are in the running, and make an anticipatory game out of it. This was something that worked very well for me and my daughter, who was so wound up by the time my wife's name was called that her shouts of genuine joy could be heard all across the auditorium.
Enough to make my wife smile and wave, which is what my daughter wanted in the first place. Good luck, graduates, and you, too, parents taking children to celebrate those graduates.