By Daniel Dunaief
Hurry, hurry, hurry! You’ve got five minutes to get to the high school before your daughter’s graduation. It usually takes six. You might have to go faster than the speed limit, but you’ve done it before.
Your daughter looks great and she’s so calm. You push on the accelerator on the straight road ahead. Your daughter takes a deep breath.
OK, just a little faster and you’ll make it. Oh, no, no, no, a small car pulls in front of you. It’s being driven at 25 mph in a 35 mph zone. Why do cars pull in front of you and then go slowly? “Come on!” you implore, flicking your fingers forward as if you were trying to scratch a chalkboard from the bottom up.
“Dad, it’s OK,” your daughter insists. “I don’t want you to be late,” you say.
You drive carefully around a curve and head for another straight part of the road. You reach a stop sign, where a BMW misses an opening to go. It was a small one, but you’ve got to make your own openings in this town. That’s what you’d tell everyone today if you were giving the speech your daughter won the right to deliver.
Your daughter did better in school than you did. That makes you proud, but you don’t have time to be proud. All these people are slowing you down. You just have a few more turns.
A Girl Scout troop crosses the road in front of you. Your daughter was in Girl Scouts years ago, but you don’t like them now. They’re making you late for such an important day for the family.
Then the Girl Scouts, whose uniforms make you think of those mint cookies, cross the street. You’re a block from the school and a sedan takes forever to park.
You grind your teeth and lift your hand to touch the horn. Your daughter puts her hand firmly on yours and shakes her head slowly.
The woman with streaks of gray in her hair and a green suit looks vaguely familiar as she gets out of a car.
Finally, you park, get in the school and, shockingly, your daughter’s friends have reserved you great seats.
You pick up your phone to start recording your daughter’s speech. The camera’s out of memory. You grind your teeth as you try to delete enough old pictures to record this magic moment.
“Good morning,” your daughter’s voice offers the room. Your wife tells you to stop fiddling with your phone and look up. After your daughter shares memories of high school, she wants to offer advice to her class.
“I want you to remember to leave some margin for error,” she urges. Right, you smile. Your daughter, who made so many fewer errors than you did, is talking to the other people about their mistakes. You nod to the other people.
“If we need to do something, to be somewhere or to accomplish anything, we need to accept that the route might include detours or unexpected obstacles,” she offers, sharing that crooked smile she developed in middle school. “It’s not anyone else’s fault. If it’s important, don’t blame the obstacles. Be prepared for them. Planning means understanding them and giving yourself some extra time to reach your goals.”
You take a deep breath, the way she did so many times while she waited for you at the entrance to the house. You look around the room to see if anyone else knows she’s talking to you. You now recognize the woman on stage with streaks of gray in her hair and a green suit; she’s the superintendent of schools.
You realize how much smarter your daughter is than you.