This is not a picture of Eldest with her boyfriend. Though in the past few months both Eldest and Middlest have complicated their lives (our lives) with boyfriends.
This picture is Eldest and one of her oldest friends who is a boy. They've seen each other through years of carpools, camping trips, backyard marshmallow roasts, swings in the park, Frisbee golf, gingerbread houses, egg hunts, dabbling in the creek, waterfall hikes, bike rides, trips to OMSI (science museum) and PAM (art), tidepooling, winter sledding, summer children's theater, high school theater, marching band, New Year's Eve word games, script-writing, set-painting and skit rehearsal for Destination Imagination, berry picking, Jane Austen movie nights (under duress with the promise of pizza or chocolate chip cookies), math classes, teaching each other how to dance, physics study groups, school lunch day after day for year after year.
In sixth grade she was head and shoulders taller than him, both of them squinting into the sun with goofy grins. This year, they went together to prom because they are friends. They gave speeches side-by-side at graduation.
I grew up with little brothers who ate my BonneBelle raspberry-flavored lip balm and spread rose-scented lotion on the fuzzy leaves of my birthday African violet. Drew their names on my mirror with my green eyeshadow. I had boy friends and boyfriends, though nothing so easy and outdoorsily active - but instead awkward dances and movie dates, sarcastic repartee, talking over the plots of Tolkien books, long pointless telephone conversations - and always I sorted the boys I knew by types based on the four kinds of boy-being exemplified by my four little brothers.
But Eldest and Middlest have grown up with this family of boys (there are two younger brothers Middlest's age). And when the girls talk of new boys they meet, they classify them as most like one or the other of these three friends who are boys.
Standing from the edges of these friendships, it seems so sweet. Like Laurie and the March girls in Little Women, or Anne and her circle of chums in Green Gables. The kind of skating parties, picnics at the lake kind of friendship I thought were charming fabrications in the dusty schoolgirl novels I used to read with such enjoyment and disbelief.
I like the young men, the new boyfriends. Nice boys, as far as I can tell, funny, polite to me, kind to YoungSon, nice to my daughters. As far as I can see.
But I do not see (do not fabricate? from years of watching and watching over?) the same sweet easiness, the same mutual care and protectiveness, the same joking habitual loyalty. "Dating someone" seems to be more about exclusivity. Playing at serial committment. Seems more about closing in than opening out. Seems more fraught with hazard. Is more fraught - though hazard means chance as much as danger.
And I want both "my maidens" (as once they used to call themselves) to have their chances. Not just academic, but human chances, too.
It doesn't help, though, that my mom works as a family therapist and a counselor to troubled teens, keeping sad families company through the many things that can go wrong, that do. She counsels young women not unlike these closest to my heart but who are working their way through the aftermath of date-rape, unmarried pregnancy, abuse. She sits in the room with broken marriages, listening to the stories of mutual cruelties.
It doesn't help to hear recently from faraway from a woman I admire about a woman we both admire, Last night three police cars went whizzing past our house at 11 pm. . . . Her husband had been beating her all evening and she is in pretty bad shape. The "all evening" particularly sickens me, that setting down to the job with industry, sometime after dinner.
I don't keep this from Eldest and Middlest. Without naming names I let them know. What can happen. We talk. How can you tell? How do you know? Questions with only partial answers. What can you do? Besides look carefully when making your choices, don't stay in dangerous places, don't give yourself over to fixing the broken? And we promise each other. Wherever I am, wherever you are, whatever happens.
"How did we luck out?" a friend of mine has said to me, I have said to her, through the years, "We were so clueless, so unknowing, what did we know? With the little we knew, how did we fall in with such gentle boys, such patient and good men? We were no smarter than other smart women we've known. How did we really know? Did we really know? What are the chances?"
What chances for our own girls? we never say. But we turn our heads together and watch them, laughing together in a circle, bare feet in the grass, sun shining on their hair.
They are so ready to set out, tall sails full of wind, precarious and so lovely, dancing on the waves, their clean lines and competent rigging, spyglass trained on the far horizon. We can only stand on the shore, waving, calling down good chance, praying for good friends to go with them in all their going.