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Chris Erskine: Graduation night

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This is the quirkiness we will miss, one of the oddities that will leave life a little empty after our teenager jets off to college in August, miserable August, only two months away.

The other morning, I walk into the kitchen to find Posh washing three waffle-makers the little girl had used to make breakfast for her high school class last week. As you may know, the last month of senior year is like the last month of an American presidency, nothing much. In fact, the teacher had turned the classroom over to the students, who took turns arranging activities, mostly showing movies and such.

Well, when their turn comes around, the little girl and a couple of friends decide to make waffles for the class, since teenagers are always willing to eat, especially meals of dubious nutritional value.

Before it is over, the waffles smog up the classroom so badly that the smoke detectors go off, the fire alarm sounds and the entire school is evacuated.

Good thing our daughter's graduating high school -- before she burns the whole stinkin' place to the ground.

::

Posh and I have always been very careful when it comes to making babies. We rely on the same birth control methods as hillbillies: whiskey and religion. Before being romantic, my wife downs a shot of Jack Daniel's, slams the shot glass to the bar and shouts: "Please God, not another one."

Four kids later, we are still parenting, we are still together. A long marriage like this is an odd thing in itself -- like a lie detector test that won't end.

"Are you mad at me?"

No.

"Want to fool around?"

No.

"Bowl of ice cream?"

OK.

Of course, lust is always out there -- irrefutable, like humidity -- but these days we are mostly bound together by our children. They are our hobby. They are our passion. They are our life.

These are the questions we mostly ask:

* Where are they?

* Whom are they with?

* What are they burning down tonight?

This week, the little girl is graduating, another milestone, another notch in the bedpost.

Not that everything is songbirds and champagne. One grad's mom has the shingles. That's right, shingles. Me, I expect to come down with hives or smallpox at any moment.

Just remember: What doesn't kill you just makes you funnier.

Posh seems OK. She and The Graduate have been yelling at each other since senior prom. I think they are vocalizing their stress. When they are not yelling at each other, they are yelling at me -- their big, gooney wailing wall.

Fortunately, I have Tina Fey's shoulders and Conan O'Brien's hair. If a guy like me can't take a certain amount of abuse, who can? (Here's a tip, dads: Just smile and promise to do better. It's much like a performance eval at work. You don't have to mean it.)

"I'm hiding her computer mouse," Posh says the other day, as she tucks it between some unpaid bills.

"What'd she do now?"

"I took away the car -- now she's losing the computer," Posh explains.

I don't know what the little girl did, but from the look in Posh's eyes, I'm pretty sure she killed someone.

"Want to fool around?" I ask, hoping to make Posh laugh a little.

"No."

"Bowl of ice cream?"

"OK, she says.

What doesn't kill you just makes you rounder.

::

We are like Lake Wobegon, except the kids drive BMWs. Other than that, we are almost exactly like Lake Wobegon. All we want is for our kids to be happy.

This week -- graduation week -- we are a town of damp eyes and quivery lips. The consensus is that the kids have survived our parenting in ways that are truly remarkable.

They have been taking AP classes since kindergarten, these teenagers. Now Purdue awaits. Princeton awaits. A whole gaggle of kids is going to Stanford. Stanford? Who gets into Stanford these days? Geniuses and wunderkinds.

You little Einsteins, you.

We parents are so proud we could burst. If we burst, there would be wine and whiskey everywhere.

Then there are the tears. Lots and lots of silly tears.

"Seems like only hours ago you napped in my backpack as I mowed the lawn," my buddy Pete wrote in a yearbook dedication to his daughter.

I read that, and suddenly fatherhood had me by the throat. I was Steve Martin in the driveway, shooting hoops. I was Jimmy Stewart in that bar, wiping his whiskers with his wrist.

Can we get on with this graduation? Before I just melt.

Yes, all we want is for our kids to be happy. And tonight, their graduation night, they undoubtedly are. Their smiles are on high beam, their hugs long and strong.

For 18 years, their beautiful smiles have lighted up our funky little town on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Now they are off to light up the world.

Good luck, kids. Good luck, world.

We'll miss you like sunshine.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

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