A couple of Saturdays ago I was mindlessly folding a mountain of laundry and looking out the front window. I could see a knot of very well dressed teenagers taking pictures and getting ready to pile into a car. It was my neighbor Daniella and her friends taking off for the prom. They all looked fabulous and excited and were ready for a big night. I smiled as I watched them. How could I not. No matter what heartbreak or disappointment you remember from your own experience, the prom remains one of the key rites of passage for American teenagers.
I stopped mid fold because I realized I was smiling and thoroughly enjoyed the moment. It used to be that watching Daniella do anything broke my heart just a little bit. I didn't feel that this time and that made me happy.
Daniella has been my neighbor her entire life. she was born about 6 weeks after Maggie and was typical in every way. That's what was so hard. She started to walk, and Maggie didn't. She talked, and Maggie didn't. She had her girlfriends over, and Maggie didn't. I watched her hit and surpass milestone after milestone that Maggie never met and it hurt every time for a very long time.
At some point it stopped hurting. When kids are little it's hard not to compare, but as they grow into their own people comparisons generally stop. Maggie and Daniella were completely different from the start, it just took me a while to come to grips with that reality.
Don't get me wrong. Daniella is very sweet to Maggie and to all of us, but she and Maggie are not friends or peers in any way. The only thing they have in common is their age and the street on which they live. They have lead completely different lives, attended different schools, have different abilities and different everything.
Perhaps if things had been different, they would have been close friends. Maybe they would have covered for each other as they did whatever it is teenage girls do in secret. But that was not to be. I think I mourned that for a long time. Maggie never got the chance to be "normal" and have the normal kid experiences. Watching Daniella enjoy - or even protest - those experiences was a constant reminder of that.
Saturday Daniella graduates from high school and this Fall I will watch her leave for college. (To be honest, the college thing might hurt a little.) She is poised and beautiful. She is ready to fly and I am happy for her.
But a couple of Saturdays ago as I watched her and her friends leave for their prom, the first thought that crossed my mind was this: Daniella is wearing the same color dress Maggie wore to her prom. Instead of watching her experience something Maggie would not, I was making a connection to a similar experience of Maggie's. Now Maggie and Daniella have their age, the street on which they live and the color of their prom dresses in common.
And that made me smile.