Who hit the fast-forward button on life? Suddenly the little girls in my life have become young women

·4 min read

Sep. 20—Fathers, be good to your daughters.

Daughters will love like you do.

Girls become lovers who turn into mothers.

So, mothers be good to your daughters, too.

— "Daughters," John Mayer Trio

I've been thinking a lot about the daughters in my life lately. Technically, only one of the young women to whom I am referring is my daughter. The other four are nieces — one from my side of the family, three from my wife Margaret's branch of the family tree.

I do have two other nieces — both from Margaret's side, both loved and cherished. But those nieces (Brandy and April) have been around as long as we have been married. They were petite participants in our wedding, and now they've had weddings and children of their own.

My younger nieces are different because I was there when they were born. Well, I wasn't there, in the room ...something about exceeding recommended occupancy rates and adhering to maternity ward etiquette.

But I do remember them progressing from a gleam in their parents' eyes during a Christmas party (there are a lot of September birthdays in this clan) through becoming the source of the bump in their mothers' baby bumps, finally emerging triumphantly from their umbilical bounds to claim the title of "niece."

Technically, "daughter" is the more important role these young women play, but this is Uncle Bill's column. Bear with me. What has me thinking about them is the fact they each have reached major milestones in their own existences this year.

My brother's daughter, Anzlee, has begun her first semester at Clemson, where she is determined not to allow disruptions of COVID-19 to stand in the way of her academic goals. In the blink of an eye, a quiet little girl who would cling to the folds of mama's skirt is far from home for the first time, on the campus of a major university some 300 miles away from her parents.

Katie, youngest child of my wife's sister, is completing her final semester at Western Carolina University and is in the midst of student-teaching in Haywood County. How can the rambunctious, giggling bundle of energy, freckles and red hair suddenly be on the verge of commanding a classroom of elementary school children when she was that age only yesterday?

Staying on my spouse's side, her brother's daughter, kind-hearted Amanda with degrees from Appalachian State and Western Carolina University, recently announced she and her husband are expecting. It doesn't seem that long ago when I attended her baptism and, unfamiliar with Catholic rituals, asked if it was OK to take photos during the ceremony, to which the priest jokingly replied, "Of course. If you see a demon flying from the child, ask it to smile."

Which brings me to niece Rachel, oldest daughter of my wife's sister. (If you're a bit confused, I get it. I once requested nametags at family gatherings). This mischievous imp — who was my daughter's frequent partner in childhood shenanigans and who once embarrassed us at a drive-thru by repeating in a squeaky voice the name for a part of the female anatomy that rhymes with Deloris — is now a WCU grad, married to a U.S. serviceman and living in the U.K.

But what is most responsible for me thinking about my nieces is the fact Rachel is now a mother. I can remember the morning she arrived, days later than expected. My brother-in-law let me drive his Nissan 280Z from Spartanburg so I could be at work on a busy Monday. As I zoomed north on I-85, I saw a shooting star, which I took as sign that this would be the day Rachel was born.

Just like that, babies who are no longer babies are going to college, graduating from college and having babies themselves.

Then there's my own daughter, a December 2020 WCU graduate who started her first "big-girl job" on Monday. More to the point, she is recently engaged to be married, with a wedding planned for next fall.

If the DJ plays the song "Daughters" at the wedding reception, you won't be able to miss me. I'll be the sobbing 60-something wondering how we got here so damn fast.

Bill Studenc, who began his career in journalism and communications at The Mountaineer in 1983, retired in January 2021 as chief communications officer at Western Carolina University. He now writes about life in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

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