Suzanne Tobias

After graduation, it’s OK to embrace childhood just a little bit longer

Hannah Tobias wanted a Build-a-Bear teddy bear instead of a party for graduation. How could I say no?
Hannah Tobias wanted a Build-a-Bear teddy bear instead of a party for graduation. How could I say no? The Wichita Eagle

My daughter graduated from high school last week, surrounded by friends and family members.

We celebrated with a cake Hannah ordered for herself.

“What would you like it to say?” the bakery employee asked as she filled out the paperwork a few days before commencement.

Hannah had gone to the grocery store with Oma and Papa – my parents – who suggested the cake idea but deferred to her on the particulars.

“Congratulations, Hannah,” she told the baker. She wanted marble cake with blue-and-white whipped frosting, she told him, and a mortarboard decoration.

“Be sure not to spell the name backwards,” my dad said. Palindrome jokes are big at our house.

The baker laughed.

“Tell Hannah congratulations!” he called as they walked away.

“Yeah, that’s me,” Hannah said with a smirk. “But OK.”

My daughter approached this milestone with a combination of relief and excitement – mostly relief – and a pragmatism beyond her 18 years. She’s always been a kid who takes care of business and doesn’t tolerate nonsense, a trait that prompted a family friend to nickname her “Grandma Hannah.”

While other high school seniors and their families rented venues, ordered food and sent invitations for grand celebrations and garden parties, Hannah opted to forego all that. Instead, we gathered with family to eat pizza and play Phase 10.

But the day after graduation, at Hannah’s request, I took her to Build-a-Bear Workshop at the mall near our house. After years of passing the store and secretly dreaming of going inside – but spending her money at more mature locales like American Eagle and Forever 21 – she wanted to finally, unabashedly, joyfully build her own bear.

I love that, I told her. You seriously want a teddy bear for graduation?

Yes, she said.

So we went inside. And Hannah went all out.

She chose her bear – a soft, classic one labeled “Happy Hugs” – and took it to the stuffing station. She chose a red gingham heart and rubbed it between her hands to warm it up, then held it to her forehead and closed her eyes to make a wish. She gave the heart a kiss and tucked it into the teddy bear’s chest.

She named the bear Marshall and dressed it in a T-shirt that said, “#1 Grad.” She chose a blue-and-orange-striped polo for his alternate outfit.

We laughed and took photos at every step, and even asked an employee whether Hannah could add her name to the dry-erase board that said, “I’m Having the Most. Fun. Ever.”

“Mylee is turning 5,” the first item on the board said. “Laney is 9 on Saturday. Ella is turning 5. Piper is almost 4. …”

“Hannah graduated from East High!” my daughter added in purple marker.

With so many changes in my daughter’s life these days – starting college and a new job, embarking on her young adulthood – it was refreshing to see Hannah embrace childhood just a little bit longer.

She took the teddy bear out to dinner with the family that night, not minding the curious stares, and snuggled with him in bed until morning. He’s still there.

I’m not sure what Hannah wished for when she held that gingham heart against her forehead. But mine already came true.