(A Beach Reporter column from May 29, 1992.)
May and June always seem to me to mark the passage of time even more than the beginning of the new year in January. We start a new calendar in January, but in late spring we mark many of life’s milestones. Graduations, weddings, ceremonies marking the completion of work well-done, luncheons honoring teachers – all these events traditionally mark the season of late spring.
It is during these ceremonies that we take notice of our lives. Life can be so monotonous sometimes, so we need celebrations to renew our souls and awaken our emotions. We need to mark the passage of time with parties. Graduates reflect on the completion of their education and are quietly proud of their accomplishment. Newly married couples start out on a journey full of promise. She will always be as beautiful as she is on this wedding day. He will always look at her with adoration.Our school recently marked the passage of time with a celebration held annually, the “Mothers’ Tea.” Held every May, it is a ceremony honoring the young women who are graduating eighth grade and leaving the school. Now that life is so unisex, I am surprised that it isn’t called a “Parents’ Tea” instead. Truthfully, I’m glad it isn’t. There are certain events that women enjoy sharing together, such as teas, fashion shows, baby showers, and shopping at the semi-annual sale at Nordstrom. I will gladly forsake Dodger games and fishing and camping trips.
The annual Mothers’ Tea is held at someone’s home. It has to be a rather large home, and usually a mom with a beautiful design-house kind of home volunteers to be the hostess for the tea. The tea is planned by the 7th grade girls and their mothers. The focus is on proper etiquette, and on presenting a dignified, cheerful demeanor. A rather dramatic change for these 7th graders, who are normally bouncing off the walls, rolling up the skirts of their uniforms, and snapping gum with precision.
When you arrive at the tea, these temporarily transformed 7th graders welcome you and offer you tea or coffee. They even walk around with silver trays filled with finger sandwiches and cookies. You eat many, because they are so earnest in their mission of service. This is the kind of affair where women wear their good spring suits and new Easter shoes. Many wear spring hats, a formality that is not often observed in casual southern California.
After much socializing, tea-drinking, and finger sandwich-eating we are ready for the main event.
The 7th and 8th grade girls line up on the circular staircase, and a hush falls on the crowd of mothers. It is now time for the 7th grade to present the graduating class. Each 7th grader pairs up with an 8th grader and presents her to the group. “This is Melissa. She has been at our school since kindergarten, and was recently voted best dancer in the 8th grade. She is going to Rolling Hills High School next fall, and her favorite subjects are algebra and music. She plans to enjoy a career as an actress or lawyer.”
The 8th-grader is then presented with a small spray of flowers, and she then joins her mother.
After the entire group of future brain surgeons, astronauts, accountants, and attorneys has been presented, we all retire to the living room for a musical presentation. I always have tissues packed away in my purse because whenever children sing I completely lose it and cry.
One girl with incredible poise performs a solo. They only choose songs that are guaranteed to make you cry. Songs about the beauty of love and the pain of leaving. Songs about leaving old friends and moving uncertainly toward the future. By the end of the solo, girls are openly weeping and embracing each other.
Somehow they all recover enough to sing another tearjerker, this time as a group. By now the mothers have mostly lost it.
Even though my daughter has a long way to go before her time on the staircase, I too feel the emotion of the moment. There could be no wonder in the world more heart-rendingly beautiful than a group of young women poised on the brink of womanhood, dressed in flowery spring dresses and singing songs of hope and promise.
Their innocence and optimism touches the group of mothers, and fills us with hope and promise. Surely these young women will each make her mark on the world, and the world will be a better place because of each and every one of them.