Milestones tend to occur in groups. All of your grandchildren start graduating high school and college, for example, or all of your friends start getting married and having kids. After a season heavy with similar milestones, we generally anticipate a break of some sort, as there are only so many family members and friends who are likely to experience the same social landmarks around the same time.
With the last of the engaged couples in my circle of family and friends having married last fall and many of the married couples busy with infants or toddlers, I mistakenly assumed we were due for a break. And then, I was blindsided by the reality that 16-year-old Younger Sister and 18-year-old Youngest Brother are now reaching their own set of milestones.
It’s not that I’m oblivious to the events taking place in the lives of my youngest siblings. I remember quite clearly when they both got their driver’s licenses, when Younger Sister was hired for her part-time job and when Youngest Brother received his first college acceptance letter. Indeed, I was part of all of these processes, whether it was offering advice or simply offering the use of my car.
These achievements, however, did not prepare me for Youngest Brother’s Eagle Scout court of honor. There’s a significant emotional difference between a family celebration with a congratulatory cake and a two-hour-long ceremony with a color guard and presentations by our state senator and representative.
Eagle Scout, as you may know, is the highest rank attainable for a Boy Scout. The requirements are rigorous and culminate with a service project that demonstrates the candidate’s leadership skills and benefits the community. After conferring with the Brookline Conservation Commission, Youngest Brother decided to take on the daunting task of better distinguishing the Cider Mill Pond Trailhead to increase the visibility of this hiking area.
His project consists of three parts: a kiosk where maps and information can be posted, a sign marking the site and a gravel parking lot. Before Youngest Brother’s project, the trailhead was just an overgrown field, and if you weren’t in the know, you’d have no idea that it’s the starting point for roughly three hundred acres of trails.
If you have a degree of familiarity with Eagle projects, you can see that his project was actually three projects. Completing any one of those three components for the trailhead would have been sufficient to fulfill the requirements for Eagle. Youngest Brother realized, however, that to really make the trailhead visible and maximize the usefulness of his project to the community, he would need to do all three components.
Due to the sheer scope of the project and obstacles imposed by the weather (you can’t put a signpost into the ground if the ground is frozen), the project took about two years to complete. It was a lot of hard work for Youngest Brother, his troop members and the family members, friends and other volunteers who helped.
Numerous presentations were made at Youngest Brother’s court of honor, with Scout leaders, government officials and leaders from veterans organizations all saying wonderful things about his dedication, perseverance and leadership ability. Hearing their words – and knowing them to be true because of everything I’ve seen over the years – made me realize for the first time just how grown up he is.
See, my typical experience of Youngest Brother is him sprawled on the couch in his pajamas, asking me to fill him in on the plot of the TV show I’m watching because he wandered into the living room partway through it. This is on the rare occasion that I see him at all – he’s constantly busy with school and activities and has a thriving social life. Witnessing him standing on the podium at his court of honor, impressive in his full uniform with all his badges and insignia, was a proud and surprising moment for me.
And that’s when it hit me: I am not going to make it through high school graduations without crying.
The reception that followed the court of honor was another opportunity to marvel at the passage of time. I used to see Youngest Brother’s friends fairly regularly when they’d come over to the family homestead to play video games or have all-night movie marathons, but that changed when they began reaching the driving age. Instead of spending time at each other’s houses, they now meet at fast food restaurants and movie theaters and gaming stores, enjoying the exercise of their newfound freedom.
As a result, I had difficulty recognizing some of Youngest Brother’s friends because they had grown a foot taller or acquired considerable facial hair since last I saw them. Once I managed to figure out who everyone was, we had pleasant conversations about the court of honor, college plans and how fantastically envious they all were of Oldest Younger Brother’s lumberjack-grade beard and mustache.
I’ve become so accustomed to the milestones that define my own age group – people getting married, having babies, earning promotions, buying houses – that the milestones for the teenage set kind of snuck up on me. Youngest Brother’s court of honor has served as a wakeup call in that respect. He’ll be graduating high school in June and departing for college in the fall. Next year, Younger Sister will do the same.
I look forward to celebrating their achievements and seeing what new things they’ll accomplish in this next season of their lives. In the meantime, I intend to focus more on enjoying those ordinary moments I have with both of my youngest siblings, having been reminded that they won’t last forever.
Also, I’ll be stocking up on tissues. Lots and lots of tissues.
– Teresa Santoski
Originally published Feb. 4, 2016