One of the graduating Millennials belongs to me yet it seems we were just driving through the Holland Tunnel on a sleepy Sunday morning so she could audition for the program of her choice. We parked the car and then waited six hours seated on a metal folding chair in the performing arts building. (I vividly recall the folding chair coupled with my worst head cold of the season). More troubling is the image of the $115 parking ticket that greeted us upon return from said audition. I also recall double parking the car six months later in that same locale, commandeering a hamper on wheels and moving our freshman into a high rise dorm. She reminded me of the Marlo Thomas character “That Girl”- embracing the wonderful crazy that is Manhattan. Armed with a subway map, she waved goodbye. And seemingly in a flash of tuition and housing bills, it’s four years later.
I haven’t thought about field trips in quite some time until a few days ago when a co-worker and I hosted a group of first graders at the bakery. Technically, we are closed on Mondays, just a skeleton crew getting a jump-start on the week. At 10:00 sharp, a yellow school bus pulled up directly in front of the bakery. I don’t know about you, but there is something about a school bus that makes me uneasy. I hated riding the bus; kids can be mean, plain and simple. For a moment, one look at the bus and I could almost feel the kid sitting behind me kicking my seat. That was then, but right now the kids bounding down the steps onto the sidewalk are downright adorable. Once inside my workplace, the first graders aged six and seven pose very serious questions. “Are you the Manager?” I reply that I do manage a few things, but my primary responsibilities are those of a pastry chef. The kids cut right to the chase. “Are you the Cake Boss?” No, no, nothing like that, I assure them. We circle around the bakers bench and they begin to identify kitchen items that they recognize, but on a much larger scale. They are somewhat impressed by the bins on wheels that can accommodate 100 pounds of sugar and flour. I explain to them that baking is physically demanding, an idea their young able bodies don’t have to worry about. They peer inside the commercial refrigerators and I point out the cases of eggs and butter, the flats of fresh strawberries. One of the young fellows outfitted in a no-nonsense Dr. Seuss Thing 1 Thing 2 sweatshirt raises his hand. “Are you the money manager, because when we have our bakery at school, I am going to manage the money.” I explain to the Young Entrepreneur that we use math everyday in the bakery and science, too. We talk about weights and measures, tally marks and accuracy. We agree it would be calamitous to mix-up the salt and the sugar. They have moved on to a more burning question; how long have I been a baker. “Quite a while” I reply. “Yeah,” says the Fiscal manager, “probably a really long time. “ I pose the question, “Has anybody ever heard of the eighties?” Their response is one word, in unison, “Wowwww.” I move on to a demonstration of the oven timer which drowns out the screaming voice in my head that says, “The eighties weren’t so long ago! Bad hair-dos, yes. Shoulder pads and leg warmers, I’ll admit. But good times.” It occurs to me that the parents of these youngsters were probably born sometime in the eighties. I glance at my watch and conclude the kitchen tour.
Armed with clipboards and worksheets, the children hunker down around the front tables to jot down some notes about things they have learned. The teacher wants to know if anyone would like to share a thought about what they have seen on their field trip and their bakery project at school. One little girl with lop-sided braids raises her hand and says, “I would like to make a connection.” Goodness, what is she about to share with us? The only thing I knew about connections in first grade was “Connect the Dot” as in “Dot to Dot” which we completed using colored pencils or Crayola crayons. This group is way beyond that; Miss Braids has made a connection, rather an observation. “There’s a connection between working in a bakery and math and science and being an athlete.” I’m so proud- they listened! A few of them hug me good-bye (this is after I hand their teacher a shopping bag filled with cello wrapped brownies for snack time) and file out the door, worksheets in hand. As they are boarding the bus, Young Entrepreneur looks back at me and says, “Remember- you have to come to our bakery at school on Wednesday!” I explain that while I would love to, I have something important to do that day.
The reason I am unable to attend the Model Bakery at the field trippers elementary school on Wednesday is simple. I know someone who is graduating from college this week and I will be attending the ceremony. It just so happens I can make a personal connection between where the graduation will take place and the 1980’s.
There are many landmark buildings in Manhattan that I frequent on a fairly regular basis. One of them however, is not Madison Square Garden. To be honest, the last time I stood in line outside Madison Square Garden was in 1980. The event? Billy Joel in concert. The cost of my ticket, right down front on the ‘Floor’ as it is called, was a whopping $25.
Several years have passed since then. I am now jostling with a crowd waiting to enter the vestibule of the Garden. Inside we make way as ducklings, our feet barely touching the ground, the crowd moving as one. Pausing to be wanded through security, then up the escalators and into the theatre, it is one of those days that you hurry up and wait for. Amidst a sea of academic attire, I can just spot my graduate because she has decorated the top of her cap. We listen to witty and thought-provoking keynote speakers and crane our necks as members of the Class of 2014 claim their diplomas one by one. The tassels are finally turned from right to left and we spill out of the theatre on to Seventh Avenue.
At lunch, buoyed by flutes of champagne bubbles, we toast all manner of things; academic accomplishments, the end of tuition, the fear and excitement of the next chapter. I glance at the quote emblazoned across my graduate’s mortarboard. It is of course, a quote from William Shakespeare. “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.” Not only is That Girl one smart cookie, she has made a perfect connection. I will happily toast to that.