Open houses and afros

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It’s that time of year – my Facebook inbox is flooding with invitations. “You’re invited to (so-and-so’s) graduation open house!” Six on a single Saturday, and at every party there are cans of pop lying in a bin of ice, veggie trays, and that bakery cake with the sugary, sugary icing piped around the edges.

Graduation open houses are fun, if not well-spread across the calendar. And this year, we have our own graduate to celebrate, so my family has been planning our own little shebang – except The Graduate wants to be unique, so no pop cans, veggie trays, or bakery cake. Nope. Her party will showcase the glorious Chocolate Fountain. There will be trays and trays of little cakes, fruit, and random delicious bites both sweet and salty to douse in the fount.

I’m told there might also be Chex Mix… and mini water bottles. The Graduate has specifically requested the small size. She has also requested: no school pictures on display. The Head Party Planner, a.k.a. mom, is diligently honoring these requests despite the traditional practice of hanging chronological school pictures to commemorate the school years that are now blessedly over.

In preparation for sister’s party, I’ve been thumbing through old photo albums. My job is Cinematographer. (Graduate, if you are reading this, well, the secret was already out when I asked for five favorite pictures from India. But you can’t watch the finished product until the party!) All the pictures have sent me on a waterside of nostalgia back towards the pool of childhood. Graduate and Big Sister, skinny and knock-kneed, in leotards and fairy wings. Graduate and Big Sister selling lemonade for 25 cents in a sun-soaked front yard. (How did we bring in a profit???) The Graduate: white-blonde bob, almond slits for eyes, big grin. Always putting on a show for the camera.

I knew the Graduate was photogenic, but I forgot how she just lights up the scene in every picture.

And in contrast to rediscovering Graduate’s consistent adorableness throughout childhood, I made the terrible rediscovery of a scary phase of my own life: The Afro Years. I forgot about these years until I found a picture of myself at age 16. Holding my newly-acquired driver’s license… with short, curly hair closely resembling the Caucasian Woman’s version of an Afro. I gasped. Is that me? And then, how did mom let me leave the house looking like that? And then, I look like Jimi Hendrix, and this is not good.

Seeing these photos made me want to call all my friends from high school: thank you for standing by me through difficult times. Thank you for loving me and not my hair. Looked closer: heavens, had no one recommended a little Mary Kay? In a crowd of teenage friends, I was the only one without eyeliner. And why did I insist on bobby-pinning all my hair back like I was a bald onion?

Here’s what I have to remember: graduation season is all about celebrating life so far, and UNIQUENESS. My sister The Graduate has been an adorable, Afro-free child – but she’s also been something else. Unique. True to herself. And as I look back at the old photos, I see in her smile a confidence in herself: a comfort in her own skin – whether she wore a Tweety Bird swimsuit, circle-lense glasses, oversized t-shirt, or braces.

We’re celebrating her unique life and her specific contributions at graduation. Her party will make us remember all the ways she was not the same as her friends, all the things she did that have especially, perfectly, intentionally formed the bright splatter paint mural of her life. We’re celebrating the yellow tulip amongst the red ones my mom photographed in the lovely shot at the top of this post (a mom would find the natural metaphor for celebrating uniqueness, and photograph it, and tell you did you see my picture on Facebook of the tulips? You should blog about it! Maybe she had the Afro years in mind….)

And I have to remember that I was a yellow tulip, too. Not wearing eyeliner: that was a 16-year-old choice I made to stay young, to to stay unmarred by grownup cosmetics as long as I could (even if now I wish, looking back, that I had caved a bit sooner and recognized that Eye Liner is Not Evil). I chose to accentuate my curls! I chose to be light on makeup, and dress like I did, and be who I was.

During this graduation season, as we dip strawberries in the Chocolate Fountain and applaud the Graduate’s unique success stories, I’m going to relax and be okay with the memory of the Fro. I’m going to remember the beauty of a single yellow tulip, and I’m going to eat my bakery cake at every party and crunch veggies and tell the graduates, you are one of a kind. Keep being yourself. Don’t ever try to be like everybody else. 

I’m also going to get my hair cut today… but not Afro short. Nope. Not that brave.

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