Tuesday I woke up early. I lay in bed. I knew that if personal beauty were my first priority I ought to wash my hair. And then blow it dry. But I hate blow drying my hair because it makes my arms hurt to hold them up over my head for that long. I decided not to bother. I justified my decision as follows. Justification #1. Due to jet lag, inordinate sensory stimulation, Katie Couric, drunken people in the streets late at night, and a comically loud air conditioner at the Nassau Inn, I had not slept much and was too tired to get up any earlier than absolutely necessary. Justification #2, I have read that washing your hair too much is bad for it, especially old lady hair. Justification #3, what’s the point of long hair if you can’t wear a ponytail? Justification #4, (had I needed more by that point), no one would care. Hair in a ponytail. So be it.
If personal beauty had been my first priority I would also have worn something memorable. Complications. The event took place in New Jersey. Where it rains. Where it is on occasion horribly hot. Sometimes both. Without warning for either condition. And I live in California, where it never rains at the same time that it is horribly hot. So I don’t own enough clothing to have smashed into my small suitcase all that would have been required to cope with these eventualities. Add the problem of having to walk around hither and yon and it might become clear what course of action I took.
Commonly known as throwing in the towel and going with a few unfair advantages.
I wore my 25th Reunion hat. A straw hat. Which has a band of tigers around the crown. Hideous, second only to my Reunions jacket covered in Tommy Bahamas tigers that somehow I left at home. The hat made it clear I was an alumna. Position of strength. Helped to counter any tendencies toward social anxiety. Navy linen Giorgio Armani pants and a navy cotton v-neck t-shirt from Target. Yep, Target. Target represents some of the best characteristics of America. No shame. Besides, I have blue eyes and navy happens to make my eyes look very blue. Position of strength #2, maybe even #2.5 except that I don’t get the thrill out of a Target bargain that I should. I wore flat closed toe shoes with a black trench coat and I carried an umbrella. I hate getting wet feet especially when grit gets caught between the sole of my foot and the innards of my shoes. Position of strength #3.
In fact, I did know that this graduation was not about what I wore. Not that my knowledge saved me from worry altogether but on the day that I become the Buddha I expect trumpets and so far the heavens are silent.
Tuesday turned out to be rather similar to much of motherhood, where events of inexorable significance unfold as you think about who might be thirsty, and does everyone have sunscreen, and who brought the camera, and how did I come to be holding all the important pieces of paper and the garbage at the same time?
I have watched my daughter from a distance during events with large audiences many times. It is always about catching sight of her red hair. The color of a new penny. Almost pink in spots, gold in others. I caught sight of her hair this time too. Her boyfriend’s mother took a picture. She is waving, her face turned towards us. Today I remember the thunderstorm that caught me standing in line, the heat where we sat not noticing that we wouldn’t be in the shade when the sun came out, the long speeches, and the curious sense of sinking in the numbers of people, lost below the current of the group meaning, like a little fish in a stream. My real priority in all of this, the reason I waited in line, and wore comfortable shoes, and sat mistakenly in the sun, was getting a picture of my daughter on this day. Done.
The graduating part, well that she had taken care of herself, really.
“Denique, parentes, ego tutus vos. Pro vacuus vestri diligo quod porro – patientia nos non polleo ut exsisto hic hodie. Nos, discipulus Princeton, gratulor vobis totus.”
*The salutatorian gave an address in Latin. In English this means, “Thanks Mom and Dad!”