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Stop. Breathe. Graduate.

Out with the old, in with the new. This is the time of year that I clean, reorganize and update the studio.  

I also reminisce about this past year's c. phelps photography seniors.  Thinking about the time we spent together laughing, sharing stories, talking about the future, getting to know the personality and idiosyncrasies of each one of them and most importantly - building relationship. 

This time also brings back bittersweet memories of dropping my own kids off for their first day of kindergarten.  Then suddenly, without warning, I found myself planning trips to remote places to photograph their senior portraits.

Watching each of them as they enjoyed the last few months of high school and prepare emotionally and mentally for graduation was both fulfilling and heartbreaking.  Strategizing on the best way to move into the next chapter of their life, or as they called it "adulting", with eagerness and anticipation.

Before I knew it, I was feeling the pressure build as I listened to the other parents talk about their grandiose graduation party plans of wedding-worthy food spreads, over-top-decorations and the must-have table-top homage to their senior's high school accomplishments.  

Despite the anxiety, my ADD, perfectionist, procrastinator, personality was not going to stop me.  And, if I can be a bit brag-a-docious, when it came to pulling off a successful graduation party I killed it - three times in a row! 

WOW!  Looking back, it seems like it was just last week.  TEARS!

So, in an effort to help all you parents out there struggling through sleepless nights and hours spent painstakingly perusing Pinterest in search of the perfect ideas that will make your graduation open house a success, I bring you my top 10 graduation tips sans drama. 

Learned from my own failures and triumphs while throwing three grad parties in three years. (Yes! You read that correctly.)

  1. Keep your perspective. It's one day.  It's a big day, for sure.  But really, it's one day.
  2. You aren't being graded on culinary expertise. I wanted my kids graduation parties to be a celebration of all aspects of who they were, right down to the food we served. I asked each of them to make a list of their favorite foods, snacks, candy and drinks.

    In the end, nothing went together.  There was no rhyme or reason to our food offerings.

    I simply served an eclectic variety of their favorites with a sign that indicated so. (This was so that my guests wouldn't think that I opened my cupboards and put out whatever random food I could find.)

    Here is a sample of a few of the items that made the buffet table over those three years:  Banana flavored Laffy Taffy, concession stand nachos served with fake nacho flavored liquid cheese, ham and cheese tortilla roll-ups, grilled hotdogs, pineapple juice, jolly ranchers and deviled eggs. (Yup, you read that correctly.)
  3. Rope yourself a wingman. Planning a graduation party is a lot like planning a wedding.  Okay, may not, but hear me out for minute. Choosing the right friend to be your maid-of-honor ensures the most fun and 'memorable' bachelorette party as well as a snag-free wedding day.

    This applies to graduation party planning as well.  Having the right friend will make the planning way more enjoyable and the execution of the day tons more stress-free and fun.  Not to mention, wine always tastes better with great company.
  4. Think outside the trifold science fair accomplishment board.  Remember the perfectionist, procrastinator, personality I mentioned above? It came into full swing the night before my first daughters graduation open house.  I had been so focused on finalizing orders for my clients that I completely neglected to plan and properly execute my own child's party.  UGH!

    Fixing my error turned out to be the most successful detail I pulled off!  First, I printed off lots of pictures of my daughter at all ages of her life as well as all the things she did which were important to her.  She wasn't involved in activities at school, but she loved animals, was an amazing artist, and loved hanging out with her best friend. I included all of these images.

    Then, I cleared all the wall and tabletops in the main rooms where I wanted my guests to sit. (Dining room, living room, sitting room)

    When it comes to saving my kid's art projects, school projects, elementary teacher binders, research papers, homework...etc, I am the queen. In fact, I have still, to this day, have a 50 gallon container filled with all things school. I just can't get myself to toss it all.

    I pulled out that bin and began taping to the walls in those main areas artwork, pictures, interesting assignments - whatever I could find. The larger items such as art sculptures, uniforms, medals, trophies, binders, large science projects and other memorabilia - those I put out on the tables in all the different rooms.

    My home became a shrine-like museum, showcasing the life of my senior.  My guests LOVED it!  They could peruse her binders and 3rd grade reports while they enjoyed Banana Laffy Taffy and concession stand nachos.

    In fact, it was such a big hit, I did it for my other two seniors.  Now, I recommend it to all my senior clients.
  5. If you DON'T build it, they will STILL come.  While this may seem like the perfect time to tackle home additions and building projects you have want to do, the stress involved may just send you over the edge. And really, your guests won't know the difference.

    But, if you find that you can't fight the craving for some extra stress consider hiring a contractor or handy-man to do some (or all) of your project.  The money spent will be worth every penny by maintaining your sanity and keeping your marriage together.
  6. Cover yourself.  Remember we live in Nebraska and the weather is not only bipolar, but also untrustworthy.  Make sure you have a backup plan, should the wind pick up to blow-dryer speed or the rain decides to crash the party.
  7. Don't forget the camera.  Given my profession, I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that I didn't take pictures of our friends and family at my kids graduation parties.

    If you aren't the kind of parent who documents every detail of your kid's life, you may want to delegate that task to a good friend or relative who will be there throughout the event.

    If you are feeling a bit tech savvy, you could create a folder in the cloud and give your guests a unique url that they can use to upload images to.  Here is a great site that tells you about how this works and links to the free software called EntourageBox.
  8. Consider a super secret second end time.  I am a firm believer that having an end-time for the guests (teachers, pseudo-friends' parents, family) who drop by your open house is essential.

    Then, a second end-time that is not advertised for your close friends and select family to hang back, sit on the deck and celebrate YOUR accomplishment over cocktails and laughter.  

    Your senior will be long gone, hanging out with their own friends by this time.  So relax, celebrate the day, and enjoy the ending of a monumental day in both you and your senior's life.
  9. Play nice.  Let's face it, we all have people in our lives who make it hard to behave like a cool, calm, adult when in their presence.  You know who they are in your life - ex-spouses, mother-in-law, heck, maybe even your own mom.  

    On this day, it is important to remember that this celebration is about your SENIOR.   And really, all they want is to have a good time with all the people who love them without any drama or awkwardness.  

    If need be, make an area ahead of time where you can step away, take a breath, collect yourself, and do what you need to do to get back in the game with your game face on.  I had a secret phrase I shared with my closest friend.  If I said it to her, she knew I was at my boiling point and she hauled me off to my 'happy place' and talked me off the ledge.  Read #3 & #8 again.
  10. Stop. Breathe.  Graduate.  Remember, this is as much a celebration of your senior's accomplishment as it is yours.  

    Take a moment to reflect on your own role in the success of your senior.  How many pick-up/drop-off's did you do?  How many hormonal tantrums did you navigate through?  How many times did you save the day by bringing forgotten items to school?  Offered help with science projects, concession stand fund raisers, post prom events, uniform upkeep...the list goes on.  

    Way to go!  Without YOU, this day would have never been possible!  So Stop.  Breathe.  Graduate.  YOU DID IT!

I leave you with this final thought.  

Were my kids thankful for a great party?  Absolutely! 

However, despite all the planning, preparing, clearing, taping, serving, cleaning, building, and stressing...NOT ONCE have any of my (now adult) children reminisced about how amazing, memorable and life-changing their graduation open house was.

Though they were surrounded by their favorite foods, a shrine to their childhood, family and friends who loved them, and cards and presents to honor their accomplishment - it is all a blur to them. 

The bottom line - in the end, stress-free good enough is better than mind-numbing, headache inducing, sleepless night causing, bank-busting perfection.

Here's to a stress-free graduation season!

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