My niece graduated from high school last week. So did a lot of kids, but only one is my niece and there is only one Katya.
I’m proud of her. She’s one of those straight A students who has checked off all the boxes, landed her dream placement in a great engineering program and is ready to take on the world. It’s hard not to feel misty and proud even if I’m just the aunt who has provided more bad influence than anything constructive.
She’s kind and sweet and has a line of snark running through her that came from her mama. When we’re all together — the three sisters and our only girl child now joining in — and the conversation gets peppery, I can see her dad shake his head almost imperceptibly and wonder what he did to deserve this.
“Well, you married a Sommerfeld,” I want to tell him. Lucky guy.
I’ve written a lot about being this age, about the bonds of family feeling more like binds and then wishing later I’d paid more attention, appreciated more things.
I don’t know if Kat is far enough ahead to be looking back just yet, but a couple of weeks ago I caught her ushering a turtle across the cottage driveway, her car with the hazard lights on to keep both her and the turtle safe. Her grandpa would have done the same thing, and it made me think of him as I watched her. Those bonds, and those binds, seem to time travel; she never met him.
My mom was a spectacular baker. Katya is a better one. Everything she bakes looks and tastes like it should be in a magazine. By age 14, she was getting orders from people. If you want to understand about a surplus of talent, consider that this baker plans on becoming an engineer.
When Mom was sick and measuring out her time in days, it was Katya, not yet 2, who could keep her entertained. I’m not sure who was babysitting whom, but I do know that when my boys were too fast or too much or just too boy, it was Kat who somehow sensed, in her wise little baby brain, that this woman needed a baby in her lap and not a race course through her living room.
That tiny girl was no pushover, however. From the time she could walk, when she’d had enough of guests, she would bring them their shoes. It was hilarious to watch (and a little embarrassing to receive), but the girl knew her own mind, even then.
At Mom’s eulogy, we noted that Katya never brought Grandma her shoes.
At her graduation party, Kat’s dad, with my sister Gilly at his side, gave a lovely speech for their firstborn. He choked up a bit and it was sweet and it also made me realize this girl can never get married; I don’t think her father could stand it. We toasted this smart, lovely girl, and I was whipped back to that time when we are breakable but unbroken, vulnerable yet brave.
We use graduations as an ending, but they’re not. They’re the beginning. You graduate to the starting gate and when you lift your eyes, the boundaries fall away. You find out fast if rules comforted you or challenged you, if walls were keeping you in or keeping something out. My KitKat will discover all this and more, and she’ll no doubt put her own turtle-ushering, shoe-delivering stamp on it.
And Kat, if you’re reading, that family who makes you so crazy will be behind you every step of the way. Count on it.