This is the only photograph I have of the three of them together; not that they couldn't or wouldn't be together; I just don't have another. I'll let you work out which is which but that's Cletus, daughter number one in the blue with all three ex-husbands. I'm fairly certain this was the last family function David attended, including Elizabeth's performances and recitals. He'd had invasive surgery the day before and was having a hard time walking very far. The photograph was taken in June of 2010 sometime between the twentieth and twenty-fifth. I can only guess by the date of the original post.
Getting her through her senior year was a near exercise in futility. I learned the other day she'd never opened the envelope with her SAT scores and at the point they came in I was too busy trying to get her out of bed in the morning. She opened the envelope the other day. Aside from math which wasn't that bad, they were pretty damn good. She was shocked. I don't think she should have been. What I am shocked about is that she managed to hang onto that envelope for six years. She got a single B first semester freshman year out of four years of college (wanted to throw herself under a bus because it destroyed the possibility of a 4.0 GPA). It was a math class and she never let it happen again. I tried to talk her out of her upset but that grade happened before any of us knew what she was going to do.
In September, 2012 I was still riding the parental high over her nearly thirteen weeks backpacking across Europe. I knew she came home changed; I just didn't know the whole of it. I saw self-confidence and a settling into who she was. I saw clarity in her face and the way she moved with a purpose. She was fierce, the same way Elizabeth is fierce now, in drive and intention.
Sometimes intention is everything.
At some point, maybe in the middle of the summer of 2012 I acknowledged to someone, another parent maybe, that the trip through Europe didn't scare me nearly as much as moving her into a dorm in September. She'd decided to go back to school on her own terms and dug her heels in about staying in the dorm at a school which was easily commutable. This was going to eat into her tuition fund, which may have made it into her senior year, halfway through the second year. I cried. I tried to talk her out of it. She said living in the dorm was probably more important than attending university in the first place. I understood why. Before that summer she nearly passed out from anxiety attacks in new situations and retreated to her room behind a closed door when she couldn't cope, which was often.
In Europe she communicated with people in languages she didn't understand to ask directions when she was lost and later, having discovered they weren't going to eat her alive, just because she could. She met other Europeans in hostels but never another American. We do not let our children do this sort of thing. Or our children don't believe they can. Or both. In the middle of her trip a girl she used to be close with was also on a tour of Europe, for two weeks, chaperoned, and in hotels. With lots of money. I think that was the final dividing line that broke their friendship; they no longer had anything in common.
And then a funny thing happened, or maybe it wasn't so funny and should have been expected. When she moved into her dorm, that first semester and probably half the next, she learned to communicate with people in languages she didn't understand. She grew up, mostly, in an incredibly privileged world where everyone, nearly, was clearly pointed to the very best (or at least those with the highest tuition) universities where everyone else would be just as white and privileged as she was. OK, she wasn't nearly as privileged, at least not in the same way but it was her language and expectation which knocked her on her ass. By the end of freshman year she'd picked herself up off the floor with her eyes wide open. She was surrounded by students who had less than and in some cases next to nothing; students on scholarship, students incurring four years of student loans with their families behind them, maybe the first ever to take themselves past high school. She'd picked the right school and her world view which started to change in Europe expanded exponentially.
She never stopped being afraid, at least on some level because she continued to stretch. I think if you aren't pushing yourself in some way, you aren't growing and also I believe if we are conscious of the depth and breadth of our choices then we ought to be at least a little bit afraid. It is the unknown and the risk of something greater than our already selves which changes our lives, re-defining who we are every time we make a leap into a space we can't clearly chart from start to finish.
I did most of my crying before the processional began. I looked at a stadium halfway full and still filling with more than 6,000 parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings, cousins and friends.
I looked at 1600 empty seats waiting to fill. That's when the shit got real for me. She's done this thing which she never really believed she could, having collected too much evidence that she'd crash and burn or just run out of steam for multiple reasons.
She's done this thing, often by brute force in the face all the evidence she's collected over the years to support the belief that she cannot. I didn't breathe for a while and my fingers started to tingle which strongly suggests that I start taking intentional measured breaths at regular intervals. It was cold in the arena, no one was dressed for three hours in a giant refrigerator and I leaned into Elizabeth for warmth and maybe something else.
By the time they came out, all the seats in the stadium were full. By the time they started walking the crowd was worked into a frenzy. Students are only issued four tickets which means I would have been the parent to miss this but she found another eight because not everyone walks and not everyone has four people to stand for them. Based on the response volume when some students walked across the stage, there were even larger families present. It wasn't just the roar of pride I was hearing, it was a sense of wonder their child had done this thing which possibly meant everything.
This is not the girl who walked in 2010. This is an entirely different woman. I don't know what she'll do next; she has a plan but she might decide on another, although the current plan seems to suit her well. I think having the courage to change direction midstream is something most of us are sorely lacking. When the boat goes to ground we have no idea what to do or even the belief that there are other choices. There are always other choices and sometimes the best of these are the choices which have us step into the unknown, impossible, improbable, or just unexpected.
Many students decorate their caps. Maybe this is so their families can pick them out. Cletus decorated hers with her future the way she envisions it today. This will take another six years with a gap year in between for the required tests and the application process. She might have done that during her last year but you see, she shifted midstream and said to hell with the fear factor.