A few days ago, I graduated from college. Standing among hundreds of my classmates, as I was about to ceremoniously move my tassel from right to left (or wait--was it supposed to be left to right?), I noticed that the gold plastic "2011" hanging from it had fallen off. I immediately saw this as a foreshadowing of my future. Fantastic. People clapped. I checked my Twitter feed for the 15th time. My toes screamed in pain in their adorable Nine West brown wedges. I breathed a sigh of relief. It was over.
But this sigh of relief wasn't because I had survived four years of higher education or because I didn't trip when receiving my fake diploma (they mail the real ones out later) or that my mom finally gave up trying to find the zoom button on her iPhone after what seemed like 20 minutes. It was because I had somehow managed to get my entire family (minus my ex-step-mom because she was sick) into a singular place. Together. For my graduation.
This was monumental.
Before my college graduation, I thought I had a good understanding of stress. To many students, stress comes in the form of pulling all-nighters, having six deadlines due at once, breaking up with your boyfriend, grad school applications, trying to make it to the bar before 9 p.m. so you don't have to pay cover, etc. However, stress takes on a new definition when you are trying to accommodate family members--certain family members that don't like to be within a five-foot radius of one another. Family members who like to turn milestone events into reruns from The OC (the good ones before Marissa dies) but with a bad soundtrack. Family members who would rather toss paper notes back and forth like middle schoolers than actually speak to each other.
Divorce can do funny things to people. Or just make events like graduation an event that you wish didn't exist. Why can't you elope with graduations like you can do with weddings? You know, have the guy hand you your diploma on a beach just like a priest would at a destination wedding for two. No guests, no drama, no worries.
In a perfect world, I would have a job right now, a closet filled with Carrie Bradshaw's shoes in my size and a boy standing outside my bedroom window with a boom box balanced on his shoulders. In a perfect world, my entire family--dads, moms, mom's boyfriend, grandparents, ex-step-moms, step-siblings, ex-step-siblings, biological siblings and half-siblings--would sit holding hands and sing "Kumbaya" in harmony.
But this, dear readers, is not a perfect world. This is a big, scary world of divorce, where yes, there is dysfunction. I like to call it my family.
In the weeks leading up to my graduation, it was like leading up to the SATs. Instead of feeling excited and wanting to throw every overpriced textbook I ever bought from the fourth floor of the library, I felt dread. But unlike the SATs, I couldn't take a practice test or buy a vocab book to prepare me for graduation. I couldn't predict how my family would act. The churning in my stomach keeping me awake at night wasn't anticipation, but rather fear. Would my mom refuse to sit next to my dad at the ceremony? Who would behave and who wouldn't? How am I supposed to find the time to play both mediator and messenger by running around to personally ensure that each individual received their ticket, because God forbid everyone just meet in the same place? This was going to be difficult.
And then I realized that it didn't have to be. This happened when I decided to say, "screw it."
My graduation would be the first of many occasions when I would have to deal with this, but it certainly wasn't going to be the last. There will be weddings and funerals and babies and all types of occasions that will demand the presence of my family members to be together all at once. My goal for that day was to graduate--not have everyone eating cake that tasted like rainbows and butterflies. I knew what I needed to do and where I needed to be and well, they could figure out the rest without me.
Surprisingly, they did.
There were no tears, fights or snarky remarks. When I entered the pavilion to graduate, I had no idea where anyone was. It was only after I graduated and moved that tassel that I turned around and looked up to the sea of people. I saw my family--my modern family--in the nosebleed section (albeit a few missing). Beaming. Together. In my post-grad photos, there are no pictures of a cookie-cutter family standing against perfect brick walls and ivy that you would find in a store picture frame, but a different kind of family. Mine. And that was okay.