I have never been to a graduation where a three year old was one of the guests of honor. Until today.
An unusual situation, no doubt. But even more unusual for me, because my son was the three-year-old guest of honor.
Over the past year, I have spent quite a bit of time teaching at a local bible college. I taught nine different classes during the year, so I knew the students well. Even though I have left the position there (just too many other priorities), I knew I had to make it to the graduation ceremonies.
Adrienne had scheduled two meetings at church, the first with the leaders of the children's ministry, and another with a team helping plan the ladies Christmas luncheon. Our older two boys were going to spending the day with their friends. That left Benjamin without a place to go.
Adrienne and I were trying to decide what we should do with him. By "deciding" I mean I was trying to convince her to take Benjamin, and she was trying to convince me to take him. I suggested he go with her, as she would be indoors. She suggested I take him, as we would be outdoors, where he would be able to make more noise. "Just give him the iPad, and let him play 'Reading Rainbow'," she said. "You can just sit in the back, and he should be fine."
I agreed, and off Ben and I went. Graduation was scheduled to begin at 10:00, and we arrived at 9:50. I walked toward the administrative offices, and was greeted by the Dean of Admissions. "Oh good, you made it! I didn't think you would. Your cap and gown are in my office."
"Wait, what? I'm wearing a cap and gown?"
"Of course! You're one of our lecturers! You'll be sitting with the other lecturers on stage."
So there we were, Ben holding his Lighting McQueen lunchbox, me holding the iPad I was going to use to keep Ben occupied. I was expected to be upfront, but I had my three-year-old to find a place to sit. Now looking back, I'm sure I could have politely refused, sat in the back with Benny, and all would have been fine. But everything happened so fast, I just agreed to go along with the plan.
A family friend of ours was there, and she agreed to have Benny sit with herduring the ceremony. I handed her the iPad, and Benny walked away with her to find their seats. I quickly dressed, very glad at this point I wasn't wearing my usual jeans and a polo, but instead had actually dressed nicely. I got in line with the lecturers, and we began walking in to the ceremony grounds.
We made our way to the stage, and I found a seat in the middle row on the stage. It seemed like everything was going to work out beautifully. Until I saw my son.
Now, I didn't see him sitting in a seat with our friends. I didn't see him crying, or running in the grass with the other kids. No, he had walked around the side of the crowd and was walking up to the stage, lunchbox in one hand, iPad in the other. He walked right to the stage, and yells up to me, "Dad, can you help me? I want to play Angry Birds."
Luckily I was able to get him to come up the back side of the stage and tried to hide him behind me in the back row. There was only two people in the back row, both sitting on the far side. I started up Angry Birds, made sure the volume was turned down, and turned around, hoping that it would be quickly forgotten by others.
So there I was, members of the Board of Governors for the school in front of me, a regional bishop for the denomination on my left, and my three-year-old son sitting behind me playing Angry Birds.
The graduation ceremony was scheduled to last three hours, and I was unsure how Benny was going to handle sitting there for that long. But I was pleasantly surprised. Overall, he did quite good. Well, except when his bladder notified him that it was reaching maximum capacity.
The guest speaker, a well known evangelist from the U.S., had just finished his speech, and the M.C. had not yet begun speaking again, when out of the back row, Benny yells, "Dad! I gotta go to the bathroom!" in front of over 1000 people. I turned around and tried to quiet him, and asked him if he could hold it for a bit. He didn't answer, just gave the little potty dance all parents are familiar with. I tried to exit the stage with him as unobtrusively as possible, and headed to the bathrooms.
Now, for those unfamiliar with the bathroom situation in Kenya, many facilities only use the "Squatty Potty" style bathrooms, the toilet bowl resting level with the floor. This is an improvement over other locations, where it is just a hole over a pit. As soon as we got to the bathrooms, Benny started crying. "Daddy, I can't go in there!" Well, it turned out that it wasn't just his bladder that was full. Benny was too scared to use these toilets, and so I tried to figure out a solution.
We have friends that live on the the school grounds, and they were attending the graduation. I grabbed Benny (still wearing my cap and gown) and ran over to their house, praying the entire way that their gate and door would be unlocked.
We made it, but we did get some odd looks from the security at the graduation. I opened the gate, and ran to the front door. It was open, so we ran in. I hollered to the house help, "Hi, were friends, and my son needs to use the toilet!" and ran right in to the small guest bathroom. Alright, I thought, the worst has happened, and everything is fine.
We survived the graduation, but I did learn a big lesson that day. The next time Adrienne and I have to decide who takes Benny, she's taking him.
Benny and I, dressed to our finest