My little sister graduated from high school yesterday.

It's hard for me to not feel sentimental about it. 11 years after I graduated from the very same high school, she put on one of those burgundy gowns and marched across the stage and it's hard to not rattle off some familiar story about the day she was born as I sat in the hospital lobby submerged in Step by Step reruns. Back then it didn't feel as if there was some gigantic age difference between us. Back then, I planned my college courses around having enough time to drive three hours home and have lunch with her in the school cafeteria and she would clutch my arm as her class began to line up and beg me to not go. I never wanted to go. I wrote her a letter nearly every single day that I was away at school and her being here was as good a reason as any for us to rush back after.

It wasn't until she turned seventeen that the age difference felt huge. If I can be honest, I've shed plenty of tears over the past couple of years over a fear that I lost her. I lost her, somewhere, and the guilt was there. Is it because I went away to school? Does she think Ethan replaced her? The truth is I'm a 29 year old mother of both a toddler and baby who passed away, and I am navigating a life of marriage and parenting and grief and grown-up activities and My Gym and playdates and organic food -- and she is an 18 year old girl graduating from high school and beginning college and experiencing freedom and eating fast food and being young as I was when I was her age. I know in a couple of years, the gap will be bridged again. I try to remember this on days where I beat myself up and bite my lip when other parents talk about close in age siblings being the best gift they could possibly give their children. I try to remember this on days when Ethan tells me about his friends who have baby siblings with a longing in his voice and then looks at me with innocent eyes that become immediately concerned when tears fill my own.

I was almost 11 when my sister was born but she was the best gift I ever received. She was the best friend I ever dreamed of having. She is rooted in the depths of my soul beyond what she can understand at eighteen when we bicker and she rolls her eyes and lays in bed and pretends she cannot hear my voice. My love deepens with the way Ethan looks at her and admires her, reminding me so much of her when she was that age. She takes his love for granted as I'm sure I did as a teenager when I assumed things would never change, when I assumed she would always be cheered up by Lizzie McGuire karaoke and a trip to the Original House of Pancakes. And things did change, but only temporarily.

My baby sister is a high school graduate and this feels like the end of an era in some way. I wasn't one of those kids who particularly enjoyed school and neither was my sister. There are bigger things that lay ahead in a world begging to be explored and my heart is happy at the thought of her being able to do these things, see these things, conquer the dreams that are hiding somewhere behind the obligatory teenage apathy. She was, after all, the first person who showed me what it was to love unconditionally and without barriers or limits or fear -- and now it is her time to take on adulthood with that same bravery. With a uniqueness entirely her own and an all in attitude that she rocks in a way that balances out my own timidness, I'm just happy to be along for the ride. As long as she'll let me stay by her side, because I still never want to go.

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