The family is sending pictures of my niece—the firstborn—in formal wear. It’s unsettling. It’s not her first high school dance, but it is the first one to show the transformation: a pack of sixteen-year-old girls in lounge wear coifing each other in a ring of lipstick and toe nail polish, hightop hairstyles and stacks of iPhones, until finally, dreadfully, their adulthood. Here they are assembled beautifully and stylishly with their dates; her date, an all-state football player with a thick neck and a carved Adam’s apple, whose blond swoop of hair tells me he’s a quarterback and whose confident smile and smirking eyes tells me he has an inkling of an idea of what we know now we were capable of then. And there she is, my 5’11’’ porcelain-skinned, red-haired niece: she wears a shoulderless, form-fitting cobalt blue dress that stops, she might say, mid-thigh. That is a generous estimation for a piece of fabric that could barely cover her Winnie-the-Pooh stuffed animal, which, incidentally, she still has. And this is what unnerves me: They have no idea that they’re still kids.
My sister, her mom, said they’re like Chihuahuas who don’t know they’re small dogs.
And yes, these aspersions are cast from only a few photographs. She and her date are not nuzzling or anything in the images, but they’re close enough to elicit a warning from my brother, the Godfather. These comments are jokes, our familial duty; but they are jokes steeped in truth.
These images were not what I intended to write about. I had written about the return of the books we keep for our kids, The Book of Calvin and The Book of Maria. They’d been left behind at my in-laws two weeks ago and, in that time, I had the urge to add an entry. It doesn’t happen as often as it once did—these books that hold the stamp of their footprints at birth don’t even get monthly action anymore. Still, once missing, the books were missed. Their absence made them more relevant, a reminder how pleased I was that me, my wife, and our family can slow down for posterity’s sake and write a note, however infrequently.
The correlation between this and my niece in her dress with her pigskin-playing date was not apparent until now: you hold onto some things because you have to let go of others. Kid or not, my niece’s decisions are hers to make. And we write in their books for us, to remember. It will be a long time—if ever—for those books to mean as much to them as they do to us. Like my niece’s pictures.