I Just Wasn’t Prepared For The Realities of Grade 8 Graduation
By Chantal Saville
Photo © galinkazhi/Twenty20
Jun 13, 2022
I remember a day way back when my daughter was in Grade 4.
I was waiting for the kids to come out alongside a mom friend, and while we waited we watched the Grade 8 kids getting ready for their graduation.
I remember being surprised that the girls were wearing literal gowns and heels, their hair in elaborate updos and makeup applied with care.
The boys were in suits.
So many pictures and giggles, flashes of tiaras and rhinestones in the afternoon sun.
My friend jokingly said that I should start saving for my daughter’s Grade 8 graduation immediately:
“There’s a lot more to it these days! Not like when we were in middle school.” I smirked at her quip and that was that.
Turns out, she wasn’t kidding.
Grade 8 Fit Check
The first hint I got that Grade 8 grad was going to be a big deal was the weekly newsletter from the principal. She has a habit of listing dates of note, going forward, and at the bottom of the list was a simple line: June 28 — Grade 8 grad and boat cruise. That’s it. No information, no details.
But then a little further down, there was a link to a service that rents out grad outfits for a small deposit: if you dry clean and return the outfit, you get your deposit back. The very existence of this organization told me I was about to land in a deep pile, and maybe my mom friend had been right after all.
I pulled hard on the brain box to bring back the memories from my own Grade 8 graduation. I remember a pink cotton dress Mom took me to get at Zellers, ballerina flats in baby blue patent plastic and fussing with press-on nails from the drug store on the afternoon of the big event.
I distinctly recall getting an award and having to make a short speech, on the auditorium stage, in front of all the parents and teachers. I also remember the dance that followed in that same auditorium, which doubled as the cafeteria and always had that faint odour of stale cheese and tuna salad. But that night, it had a disco ball and a sound system that played Cindy Lauper’s greatest hits and the extended version of Stairway to Heaven.
It was a pretty great night.
So, suddenly I started getting a little excited for Nikki to have a similar experience.
When I envisioned her Grade 8 graduation, I pictured something like what I got: cute dress and shoes, a little ceremony and maybe a dance. Nothing too fancy, right?
The Art of the Grad
“Mom! Someone added me to the Grade 8 Girls group chat on SnapChat and they’re asking me when my appointment is for trying on dresses.”
What’s this now?
Turns out, there are a couple of chic boutiques in town that set aside dates in March and April for Grade 8 girls to come and find the dress of their dreams.
Now, I know that Zellers is long gone, but a quick peruse of the websites for these stores left me gobsmacked and more than a little worried that my friend had not only not been kidding, but had in fact undersold the issue.
The average price was between $250 and $300. For a dress.
That my kid would likely only ever wear once.
And these were not the pink cotton ensembles of my day, but rather satin and lace, rhinestones and crinolines. These were prom dresses that I could imagine on a 17-year-old, not my 13-year-old!
Anyway, the dress was only the beginning.
Then there were the shoes, bag, hair accessories, makeup, hair appointment and mani-pedi appointment.
All being discussed and dissected in the way that only 13-year-old girls can do: with total abandon and just a hint of judgment.
It’s All Feeling Like A Lot
I was quickly overwhelmed, looking over my kid’s shoulder to see the selfies from some of her classmates who had already attended their appointments: off the shoulder and strapless gowns, some knee length, some full on ball gown floor length. Most of these looks wouldn’t have been out of place on Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.
I could see her getting excited, looking at everyone else’s dress shopping excursions and I wanted her to get swept up into it, but reality stepped in the second before I picked up the phone to book her appointment in the form of my monthly credit card statement.
So we talked about what was realistic for us, and her group chat was helpful in sending along links to several sites that had nice dresses for a lot less money.
As I put it, if we didn’t spend it all on the dress, we had plenty for the rest of her ensemble. Given that she was going through a “I want all the purses I see” phase at the time, that was all the incentive it took.
She spent the next few days poring over dresses online, taking screenshots and sharing them with the group chat, asking the girls for their opinions.
The Final Push, With Tears
Finally, she narrowed it down to four. I put an immediate X on one for being more revealing than I’d feel comfortable seeing a 30-year-old in (think very short slit up the side, skin tight crushed velvet with rhinestones and you’ve got the picture). The other three were lovely so the choice was hers.
From her point of view, this was an enormous decision. She agonized over it for two days and finally picked a gorgeous navy blue slim fit satin dress with little flutter cap sleeves. It has lace at the front and in a V down her back, with a cinched waist and a flowy overskirt that is little longer in the back, giving the impression of a train that flew at knee level. It was absolute perfection and it was $75, with free shipping. SOLD!
She also found matching navy wedge heel sandals with rhinestones across the toe piece, which matched her navy handbag with rhinestones on the handles. And I found a perfect satin navy headband with, you guessed it, more rhinestones. A little shawl in a lighter shade of shimmering blue for the evening on the boat cruise and she was set.
She tried everything on when it arrived: it fit like a glove and looked beautiful and elegant. I started to cry. This was my baby! And she was looking very grown up all of a sudden. She has been practising with makeup and manicures for a while now, being a fan of YouTube makeup videos, so she tried out several looks, all of which were very pretty. And I started to cry again. Who was this person? How was she already old enough to go to high school, with the big kids? I wanted to grab her and run screaming to a place where she would remain my wee girl forever.
Since “Never Never Land” doesn’t actually exist, I dried my tears and booked her hair appointment, wanting her to have as much of this experience as we can squeeze out of it. After all, the last two years have been pretty miserable: no trips, no dances, no typical experiences for middle school. This was a chance for normal and I wanted her to have it all, within reason.
And in a way, I’m happy about the rigmarole process we went through to get her ready for this occasion. It gave me the chance to really see her in a different way, less as my wee babe and more as the beautiful, funny and charming young lady that she is becoming. When she crosses the stage to get her “diploma” I’ll cry some more, but she said she’d lend me her waterproof mascara, so I guess I’m ready too.
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