‘Quick, take your coat off and join us,’ my grandson’s teacher beckoned to him as he and his mum rushed up the steps of the nursery. She was leading a line of small children walking two-by-two in brightly coloured overalls out of the front door and into the summer sunshine. Oh dear, we were late and my son had dropped us off and driven away, a bit stressed, along the dusty unmade-up road to find a parking space. Meanwhile, the teacher gestured to my granddaughter, her mum and me to go ahead of her class into the main hall.
Thank god it wasn’t too hot since the square terracotta painted space was packed, not an empty seat, with masses of parents standing at the back. We wove through them to find a gap to stand in and I caught sight of rows of tiny chairs in front of the stage covered in white material, each with a large coloured bow tied at the back like at a wedding in Munchkinland. Oh god, this nursery graduation mania seems to have gone global – my grandson in Essex had his photo taken in a mini red gown and mortar board like a diminutive don from Lewis or Morse back in the day. Ok, so it’s a transition thing, but isn’t all this a bit OTT? But maybe I’m just a miserable old killjoy.
My son arrived, puffing, just in time since, after a few welcoming words, cue marching music and in came the children two by two down a central aisle lined with silky red ropes. Each group had around 15 kids and a teacher and I counted five teachers. Oh my, I thought, that’s a lot of awards to be handed out – could I stay standing up all that time and supposing I needed the loo? Then more children marched past led by a tiny boy bearing a huge flagpole with the Argentinian flag dangling from it. ‘The class of 2016 hands over the flagpole to the next class before they leave,’ explained my Argentinian daughter-in-law. Gosh.
I couldn’t see much, but each child must have arrived at a so-and-soing frou-froued-up chair and on came the Argentinian national anthem, played on Peruvian pipes. ‘Well actually,’ said my daughter-in-law, ‘they have pipes in the north of Argentina.’ Parents (minus my son who’s not into singing to flags) and children (ditto my granddaughter) sang lustily (there were several verses) and then came some speeches. Oh dear, the words were a bit fuzzy via a microphone and what with my tinnitus and being at the back I couldn’t catch much of the Spanish apart from a lot of gracias’s for being able to share the children’s happy times, their tears, etc – very poignant. Then, praise be, some arms waved this wilting gran towards a vacated seat in the row behind my grandson who was seated in a chair with one of those so-and-soing bows on it.
At last a teacher cried: ‘Are you ready to get your certificates and medals?’ ‘Yes,’ shouted the kids – cue aspirational music like in Chariots of Fire when those young men run in slow motion along the beach. Each child’s name was read out and their brothers, sisters, grannies and parents etc etc emerged from the audience and climbed up to the stage. The class teacher kissed the child on the cheek, gave them a rolled certificate, placed a ribbon with a silver medal hanging from it round the child’s neck and hugged each family member, cue massive applause and group photo opportunities. There was a bit of a sobfest going on and tbh, I too had tears dripping off my chin – after all I didn’t know how much longer I’d be able to come out to see my grandson and watch him and his sister grow up etc etc and etc. Get your act together, woman, I told myself – you’ve got to take the photos of grandson’s moment in the spotlight and you need to press the right thingy on the phone for once.
Ok, it got a bit chaotic with parents coming down from the stage, some going up and others jostling to take photos as the applause soared up to the wooden roof. Soon my grandson was seated again, medal in place, hitting the child next to him over the head with his rolled certificate, there was another song and, hurrah, over two hours after it started, everyone crowded out of the hall down a corridor and into their child’s classroom. It was time for cake.
Argentinians are big on cake and soon the kiddie-sized classroom tables were loaded with them, baked and brought in by parents. And cakes here are utterly irresistible – why? you may ask. Well, they’re chock-full of dulce de leche, that’s why, which for the uninitiated is like liquid fudge – gorgeous gooey golden brown oozy fudge. My poor, poor grandson is allergic to milk, which dulce de leche is made from, and I can only hope he grows out of it soon. But his mum had knocked up an amazing dark chocolate cake before we’d left home that morning for him to share with everyone.
Ok, I was thinking, let’s hope the cholesterol pills can cope with this and, as I was trying to decide where to start, a mum came in carrying a large cake-stand and under a huge domed cover sat an enormous round cake. Oh yes, it was a Showstopper cake, all right, as Mary Berry would’ve described it, though it wasn’t crafted into the shape of a peacock or some such or didn’t even have a so-and-so-ing bow around it, but it was decorated with cream, and, you’ve guessed it, dulce de leche. Then the mum cut it and, as she presented a giant slice to each child and their family members, dulce de leche oozed out of its middle. Now that’s what I call a graduation ceremony.