Family Matters

One Dad’s Ultimate Graduation Gift Took 13 Years to Make. What Have You Got?

For his daughter's high school graduation, Bryan Martin gave her the Dr. Seuss classic 'Oh, The Places You'll Go!' filled with hand-written memories from each of her teachers since kindergarten. My answer to Martin's gift: a time capsule — equally sentimental but a lot less labor-intensive.

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Brenna Martin displays her graduation gift

By any standard, Dr. Seuss’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go! is a great read. And Bryan Martin, a North Carolina dad, is hardly the first parent to purchase the volume for his graduating high-schooler. But Martin managed to one-up the sublime rhymer himself, incorporating in the book’s pages 13 years’ worth of hand-written teachers’ comments and insights about his daughter, Brenna.

When Martin first told Brenna, 18, he had a present for her, she thought she “was getting some cheesy graduation card.” But then she opened the book and realized that it was filled with personal memories. “Every year, for the past 13 years, since the day you started kindergarten I’ve gotten every teacher, coach, and principal to write a little something about you inside this book,” he told her. Brenna dissolved into tears.

She chronicled her delight at her graduation gift online:

Sitting there reading through this book there are encouraging and sweet words from every teacher I love and remember through my years in this small town. My early teachers mention my “Pigtails and giggles,” while my high school teachers mention my “Wit and sharp thinking..” But they all mention my humor and love for life. It is astounding to receive something this moving, touching, nostalgic, and thoughtful.

Nearly 6 million people have checked out Brenna’s post on her father’s handiwork, which has been proclaimed “incredible” and the “best graduation gift ever.” It sure beats a bouquet of roses.

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Hearing about Brenna’s book made me a little misty, which is equally a reflection of her dad’s creativity and my precarious emotional state in the few days since my youngest daughter finished preschool. Now I’m officially one of “those moms” — the ones with the older kids who don’t need constant parental tending. Older kids — I already had two in this camp — start to prefer time with friends to time with mom. These are wonderful, laudable milestones, but they’re also incredibly sobering. My oldest, a boy, is approaching double digits; I frequently poll friends with sons to ask at what age theirs stopped wanting to hold hands with them or smooch them goodbye at the bus stop. We’re not there yet — but I know it’s got to be just around the corner.

I realize that my nostalgia over my daughter finishing preschool is largely my own personal crisis. It’s certainly not hers: On her final day, she brought home a stapled book of white paper. She’d scrawled “LOVE” on each of the three pages and “THE END” on the back. I was beside myself, assuming it was a tribute to her feelings for her family. When asked about it, she set me straight. “Since it was the last day of school, I decided to make a book that says ‘love’ because I loved preschool so much that I didn’t want it to end ever,” she said.

On her birthday earlier this month, I sought solace in Twitter: “My youngest turned 5,” I posted. “Is it too melodramatic to say it feels like the end of an era?” Dr. Melissa Arca offered some perspective: “No, not melodramatic at all. It is the end of an era. But also the start of a new and wonderful one :-)”

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She’s right. There are so many things awaiting us. In many ways, in fact, I feel like our family life has just turned the corner. We recently gave away our last car seat. We no longer schlep a stroller everywhere we go. Diaper bags are long a thing of the past. No one needs to nap anymore — aside from the parents — so we’re able to go where we want, when we want. Turning 5 — the unofficial delineation between little kid and big(ger) kid — is, in many ways, a miraculous thing.

To make sure I remember how unbearably cute 5-year-olds are — despite research showing otherwise — I keep a periodic journal that compiles my kids’ interests and funny outbursts, like my recent conversation with my then-4-year-old about how babies are made. (I’d previously explained the salacious details, so I prompted her to recall them on her own. She demurred: “I can’t tell you,” Orli apologized. “It’s inappropriate.”) Now, as she prepares to enter kindergarten, Bryan Martin’s graduation coup reminds me it’s never too early to start thinking about senior year.

I’ve already got the perfect gift for her, inspired by her older brother’s kindergarten teacher. Three years ago, his amazing teacher (shout-out to Ms. Hemingway, no relation to the big-shot author) announced a class time-capsule project. Every student was to fill a shoebox with knickknacks that meant something to them, favorite books and toys and stick-figure artwork, along with letters from parents and grandparents. Volunteers wrapped up the boxes, the kids decorated them, and parents then stashed them away in attics with strict instructions to present them 13 years later as a graduation gift — a snapshot of what these proud, accomplished, yearning 18-year-olds were like the year they embarked on their school journey.

Instead of, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!, it’s more like, “Oh, The Places You’ve Been” — a sort of retrospective of the first six years of life. I think Brenna’s dad would agree that it sure trumps a cheesy graduation card.

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