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22 parties: Surviving the graduation social circuit

June 4, 2012 at 11:44 AM ET

Mark Scott / Getty Images /
Sure, we want to celebrate your accomplishment, recent graduates... but we don't want to go broke doing it.

Ed.'s note: This post was updated with advice from New York Times etiquette columnist Philip Galanes. Read on for more!

My social calendar is full. 

There’s not one weekend in all of June and most of July that isn’t booked with parties.  In fact, there are many Saturdays where I have multiple invitations.  On those days, I’m party-hopping from early afternoon to the wee hours of the night.  It’s a new experience for me.  I had no idea that this whirlwind of celebrations existed. 

Have I suddenly become a socialite? Am I celebrating the Queen’s Jubilee? Hardly.

I’m on the high school graduation party circuit.

It wasn’t until my oldest son became a junior in high school that I was thrust into this social scene, and I’m exhausted.  It’s a demanding schedule requiring endless cake eating and ceaseless check writing—both of which have taken a significant toll on my bottom line. 

First, let me say, I didn’t have a high school graduation party.  I know my parents were proud of my accomplishments, but I think they were equally ready for me to head off to college.  That’s probably why, in lieu of a grand celebration, they gave me luggage.  Nothing says “we’re proud of you dear daughter, now get the hell out” like a tweed set of Jordache suitcases. 

So, the flood of high school graduation parties took me off guard.

The invitations started to roll in mid-May.  They came from friends of my kids and kids of my friends, all of whom I’m happy to celebrate with.  It wasn’t until I started plugging the parties into our calendar that I pondered the costs.  At 22 invites and counting, it’s become clear that I’m either going to have to rob my grocery budget for the month, or arrange for my family to donate plasma. 

Next was the question of what to give.  I want to give a present that communicates our great pride in the graduate’s accomplishments while also imparting a profound message about their endless opportunities.  A book penned by an inspirational poet?   An engraved pen set from which ingenious words of collegiate brilliance will flow?   My 17-year-old squashed my creative instincts. 

Mom, don’t be stupid.  Give them money.  They need cash. 

But how much and in what form?  A gift card?  A check?  Should I give more to my nephew because he’s family?  Can I get away with giving less to the kid who drives a nicer car than me?  My oldest won’t graduate for another year so I don’t know what the expectation is. 

Philip Galanes, the "Social Q's" advice columnist for The New York Times, advised me (and other TODAY Moms) to "think 'Hunger Games' –  and be ruthless!" when it comes to the graduation party circuit. The author of "Social Q's: How to Survive the Quirks, Quagmires, and Quandaries of Today" writes in an e-mail to TODAY Moms:

If you barely know a graduate (or parent of a graduate), and don't plan to attend their party, a simple greeting card will do the trick just fine.  "Congratulations, graduate!"  And call it a day – without a single Washington, Lincoln or Benjamin Franklin slipped inside.

Hopefully, this will reduce your pile in half. 

Then, take the remainder of invitations and create a budget for yourself, the same you do at the holidays. Maybe $250 is your total pot, or maybe it's more or less, depending on how flush you're feeling. Then whack it up, depending on your relationship with the graduate in question: a niece or nephew, for instance, (or a dear friend's kid) probably ranks higher than a graduate who used to be your neighbor in 1998. The closer you are, the bigger the gift.

Cash gifts are always appreciated by teens.  But if you're the old-fashioned type, and find that crass, make it a gift card to your local bookstore or the iTunes shop.

Then, wait (about a million years, based on the letters that come to me at The New York Times) for the "thank you" notes that you will never receive.

I must admit, the idea of a quid pro quo has entered my mind.  Would it not be easier if all the parents decided to forego the graduation gifts to one another’s kids and wrote our own kids one big check?   It would definitely be more economical!

But that wouldn’t be any fun, and as it turns out — I actually enjoy these parties.  Most are backyard affairs where friends and family eat, drink, and reminisce about how it was only yesterday that we were changing the graduate’s diapers.  Usually there are photo displays recounting childhood milestones like soccer championships and Halloween costumes.  All of the graduates are kids I care about.   I have hopes and dreams for them and I’m genuinely proud of their accomplishments.

So, I’m embracing this flurry of graduation parties, grateful for the opportunity to celebrate who these kids have grown to be, and realizing that this stage of parenting life, like all other stages, will eventually  come to an end.

I suppose next will be the weddings.  I’d better start saving now.

Carolyn Savage is a mother of five, ages 10 months to 17 years, and the author of "Inconceivable: A Medical Mistake, The Baby We Couldn't Keep, and Our Choice to Deliver the Ultimate Gift." When she's not changing diapers or arguing about curfews she can be found blogging about her constantly evolving life at Mamaonthefly.com, or escaping through Twitter at carolyn_savage

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