If you've been reading this blog for any period of time, you've heard me mention my cousins. My brother and I grew up right down the road from these girls, and for all practical purposes, we're more like siblings than cousins. I know now that's rare; families don't always look like mine, and it's hard to explain just how close we are and why. A few years ago, though, it hit me: I don't necessarily have to understand our relationship; I just have to be grateful for it.
The day before Jordan and I got married, my aunts hosted my bridesmaids' luncheon at their house. So many of my favorite people were there, and after we ate brunch and exchanged gifts, the girls all played this game about who knew me best. The room was filled to the brim with some of my very best friends: my maid of honor who's known me since second grade; college kindred spirits; a high-school-turned-grown-up BFF; and my younger cousins, who despite their ages (14 and 12) tried desperately to fit in and make me proud. The questions were many and varied, ranging from how I like my cookies -- dunked in water, thank you very much -- to what I wanted to be when I grew up (a point guard for the WNBA, obviously). I fully expected my maid of honor to win the game that day. We've known each other for what seems like forever. We have inside jokes and countless funny stories; we've seen each other through our very worst and our very best. But in the corner, quietly filling out the quiz, sat one of my little cousins, and wouldn't you know it? She answered every single question right.
I didn't cry a lot that wedding weekend. Back then, I wasn't too much of a crier, and when I walked down the aisle to Jordan that sunny fall Saturday, tears didn't come. I was giggly and happy, and tears just didn't seem to fit the bill. But that moment, the minute my cousin became the only one of my friends (some of whom I'd known for a lifetime) to get every single "about me" question right? Well, I got a little tearful. And later that same night, the night before the big day, when we rehearsed our steps and I practiced walking down the aisle, I wasn't giggly at all. I didn't anticipate it, but I was a tearful, sobby mess, and it's because as I stepped around the corner with my dad on my arm, I looked up to see that same little cousin absolutely bawling (and then, almost every single one of my bridesmaids following suit).
My little girl dreams of having a younger sister to play with, to argue with, to imagine with? I don't think about those dreams any more, mostly because of what happened in those tiny moments back in November almost four years ago. I don't need sisters, because quite frankly, I already have a couple (plus a brother I wouldn't trade for the world). That weekend Jordan and I got married, I finally realized just how much my family means to me. That tiny, silly, 20-question quiz? It taught me a lot about who knows me best, about the quiet observers that exist in families, about who really, truly sees your worst and your finest moments, about who loves and knows you more than anyone else on the planet.
On Friday, that same precious little "fuzzy" graduates from high school. It's been a hard year. Our grandmother passed away in January. A math class turned out to be much more difficult and challenging than expected. The college decision is big and looming and intimidating and scary. I've watched her navigate it all with grace, and I'm not so sure I could have done the same given those circumstances. I'm proud of her, proud of the adult she's becoming and the girl she is today.
Because younger siblings often (so I hear) get the short end of the stick, my brother and I haven't been able to attend all of the events Ashley was forced to attend for us while we were growing up. She was at every special event, every graduation, every recital, every banquet, every awards ceremony, every game. We haven't always been able to say the same about her special occasions, though goodness knows we've tried. This week, though, I plan on being there, plan to proudly sit in the audience as she gets her diploma and crosses that stage into her next adventure.
And because I consider myself her honorary older sister, this week on the blog, I'll be sharing my thoughts on graduation, on what I'd go back and tell my 18-year-old self, on the lessons I've learned in the eight years since I walked across that same stage and began to write the next chapter of my life's story.
I already have a good idea of what I want to say and how I want to say it (there are at least three posts on the topic headed your way), but I'd like to know what your advice would be. What would you tell your 18-year-old self before watching her (or him) move the tassel from one side to the next? I'd love to be able to share with my cousin -- who, on top of everything else, is a regular reader of this blog -- your thoughts on what it means to grow up, to become the person you always thought you'd be.
Would you mind sharing in the comments? I try not to be the kind of person who begs for feedback, but I think we'd all agree sometimes, it's worth going out on a limb for the people we love. If you'd share your advice in a comment today, I'd so appreciate it, and so, I think, will a little sister of mine.
Happy Tuesday, everybody.