Graduation is less than a month away, and I’m sorting through a box full of old, random photos that date back to 2001, the year my daughter was born. As if that’s not enough to make me actually feel my heart pound outside of my body, her 18th birthday is this week. It’s like I thought I had awhile before I needed to be prepared for these things or something.
A job that might take other, less sentimental people (if they exist) an hour or two has now stretched into Day 3 for me. I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole that I’m happy to keep falling down and yet also find myself scrambling like mad to get back up to solid ground. Each 4×6 piece of paper holds an entire chapter of memories, and it’s impossible for me to skim, no matter how behind schedule I am.
There she is at about six or seven months old with a smile that threatens to eat her entire face. She’s sitting up alone, so naturally.
There she is with a delighted face smeared with spaghetti sauce, or syrup, or chocolate cake (there are multiple versions of this one).
There she is sitting on the sidewalk in an impossibly tiny swimsuit with a gigantic, puffy swim diaper sticking out the leg holes, blowing bubbles all by herself. The pride she feels jumps off that picture and hits me square in the face, 16 years later.
There she is on her way to preschool for the first time, dressed from head to toe in coordinating Gymboree with freshly cut bangs and a chin length bob, looking like a tiny adult on her way to the best job ever.
There she is in various costumes, wigs, and homemade masks made of pipe cleaners and scotch tape, mugging for the camera in a way that makes me laugh as hard today as it did when I snapped it.
I look at these photos for a while. Because now that so many years have passed, I see much more than the ridiculously adorable baby. I see everything she’s become since then. I see years of experiences and moments that have shaped her into the remarkable young woman she is today. And as I look at that baby in the photographs I want to tell her things, all kinds of things.
I want to tell her that when she’s four she’ll go on a random errand with me and come home with a kitten that will become her everything.
I want to tell her that she’ll love elementary school so much she’ll cry every year on the last day of school.
I want to tell her that she’ll eventually allow the nurse to give her a shot.
I want to tell her that her period will suck.
I want to tell her that she’ll always love her birthday and Christmas as much as she did when she was three.
I want to tell her that her dramatic personality will pay off and she’ll find a home away from home on the stage.
I want to tell her not to get her hair cut short that time she thinks she wants to.
Or the next time.
I want to tell her she’ll have bad days and hard days and days she won’t know what to do with her complicated emotions.
I want to tell her she’ll get through them.
I want to tell her she’ll drive herself to Target one day.
I want to tell her that after all the stress about failing, she’ll not only pass Chem-X but will get the highest grade in the class on the last test.
I want to tell her that one day she’ll be Mary Poppins and fly across her high school stage hooked up to wires, leaving the audience breathless.
I want to tell her how gorgeous her prom dresses will be.
I want to tell her because of years of hard work and dedication she’ll go to college to chase her dreams.
I want to tell her that she’ll be pretty darn happy with how things are turning out for her.
I’m still sifting through the photo box (a few days later, because I’m apparently into self-torture) when I get to a more recent photo, taken only last month. She’s standing in front of her college’s sign proudly pointing to the name of her performing arts school on her new sweatshirt. Just like when she was a baby, her smile threatens to eat her entire face. She looks so different but at the same time so much the same. I look closer. And this time I not only see all that’s led her here, but the potential and the possibility in all the experiences that are to come.
What will her future self tell this girl in the picture, I wonder? What kinds of things are ahead of her? I can’t know that for sure, but what I do know, right now, is this: despite the ache in my heart for the goofy little girl in the hundreds of images that are surrounding me, I’m full of joy for the remarkable grown-up girl she’s become, and full of anticipation and excitement for the woman she will one day be … and for all the photos still to come.