My youngest turned twenty-one yesterday.
I’m gazing at one of my favorite pictures of her as I write this – she and her brother posed on a decorative stone wall at a house that was new to us the previous winter. It was then late spring and the weather was glorious, so I got the two of them outside for some pictures. Cate was three when the photo was taken, and it is how I remember her best: unruly pieces of blond fluffy waves escaping my best efforts to contain them in a ponytail, and the brightest, happiest smile crinkling her beautiful grey-green eyes. She looks perfectly comfortable and happy with herself.
Right next to that photo is one of her senior portraits, the one in which she is wearing her school uniform, with a couple of twists. Against school regulations, her shirt is partially tucked (must be fully tucked at all times), her belt is covered with green studs (should be brown or black unadorned leather) and she’s wearing Chuck Taylors on her feet (only brown or black leather dress shoes were permitted). She has her hands on her hips, looking at the camera with a playful “How do you like me now?” smirk. That’s my girl. Stepping ever so slightly outside the lines.
Catherine always did things her way, from the very beginning, in a curious combination of whimsy and will. She steadfastly refused to nurse for nearly her first week of life, so that in desperation I’d give in and give her a bottle. When she was a toddler, she put on her father’s Donegal tweed Walking Hat and one of her mittens to “dust” the dining room table. She insisted on dressing herself in outfits like polka-dotted shorts, a stripey top, and a different sock on each foot – all in colliding circus colors. Sometimes I’d find her in her room, “dancing to music that only I can hear.” Beauty and the Beast is still her favorite movie, and she wants to be married someday in a beautiful gold ball gown, with her groom in royal blue tails.
She feels deeply and strongly. She cares for those in her world, both friends and those she hasn’t met, with uncompromising vigor. She has no patience with bigotry or prejudice, and absolutely no tolerance for ignorance. (I tell her that she needs to work on that last one.) There are no grey areas in Cate’s emotional world.
The co-Valedictorians of Cate’s high school class dedicated their graduation address to listing the positive attributes of each of their class members. Their words for my daughter were the best words I’ve ever heard: “Cate Wigginton – you are your own person. You never bowed to peer pressure.” So they’d noticed, too.
My baby wants to be an FBI agent. Of course, I worry about that choice. But she will not be swayed. That’s good. She’ll need every ounce of that resolve to become a real G-Man.
She may not know it, but she helped me regain my own whimsy. It had gotten buried in grown-up and grief by the time she came along. But with the force-of-nature that was my small daughter, there was no faking your way through the tea parties and Polly Pockets. She knew when I wasn’t completely invested in the game, and she’d insist that I match her level of commitment to the fairy tales. (All it took was one of those crinkle-nosed smiles.)
I look ahead to her next few years and I see wonderful, challenging, life-defining days. What a world my daughter will create. No matter what, she’s going to do it her way.
Belle with a gun & badge? Why not.