When all was said and done, it wasn’t our niece, the eighteen-year-old graduate who is also our neighbor, and my husband’s Goddaughter, that forced me to blink hard Saturday. The arrival of her sixteen-year-old cousin from out-of-state (on the other side, no relation to us) triggered my deepest breath. She is two months older then our daughter, and unlike our girl whose subtle changes we miss due to proximity, the signs of her approach to maturity were unmistakable.
This cousin once removed if you will, stands tall at 5’6”—having sloughed off the soft plains of childhood; she smiles with teeth no longer encased in braces, holding herself erect and participating in adult conversations. I noted all this as we sat with her family at the graduation program. Our own daughter, a flute player in the school band, joined us at the end of the ceremony and as she stood next to this cousins’ cousin, the fog in which I regularly view her receded. They may be about an inch apart in height, but they’re both positioned the same short distance away from the looming cliff of adulthood.
A State Farm Insurance commercial on TV advertises a safe driver course that, based on the strength of the message, causes me to wonder regularly if we should change our coverage. A little girl, pigtailed and freckled and no more than eight, enters the room and asks her dad if she can borrow the car. The father responds with the typical litany of questions; where is she going; when will she return and the child responds, “To the movies.” At that moment, the camera angle switches away and back, and the viewer sees what her father is blind to, that the daughter is actually a licensed teen who grabs the keys and bounds out the door. Soon, a little boy wearing dress pants, strolls out throwing a jacket over his shoulder. The dad calls out “Where are you going” and the little guy replies, “To work.”
All parents experience some rendition of that commercial, it is almost impossible for us to visualize our children grown up. Graduations pull the image of pending maturity into focus. This weekend signified so many things, the end of our niece’s high school years, the commencement of her adult experience, her imminent departure for college. And while clearly the backyard party held later honored her and her friends, it occurred to me that they are not the only ones who matriculated. After watching our daughter socialize confidently with her cousins--trading jibes with the coast guard ensign and volunteering for clean up duty, I realized that to some degree, the commercial that’s been playing in my brain for the last fifteen years concluded on Saturday too.