A big, white bow bobbed up and down from the top row of the risers.
Sweet, petite Ysabel could barely be seen over the kids standing in front of her. But occassionally, I’d catch a glimpse of her grin, delighted wave, her hands cupped over her mouth and her always-present hair accessory bouncing above the heads of her classmates.
The kindergarten graduate could hardly contain her excitement.
In the crowd was a proud big cousin who had no hope of withholding the tears.
It was instantaneous. The second I stepped foot into the cafetorium at Paradise Elementary, I was awash in a sea of emotions. Then just as I looked up to see a slideshow of photos of the kindergarteners in miniature caps and gowns, my 6-year-old cousin’s little face bobbed across the screen.
That was it. I was done. The tears streamed uncontrollably down my cheeks.
It kind of caught me off guard, this surge in emotion. I’m a fairly sentimental person, but I typically express those feelings through the written word, hugs and the occassional teary eye. I wasn’t sure what exactly set off this full-on, ugly cry.
I’m sure Ysabel’s mom – obviously proud but much better collected – wondered what my deal was.
Sure, there was much to be proud of in our Ysabel’s conquering of phonics, sight words, counting by 5s and 10s, seasons and months, landforms and pledges to the U.S. and Texas flags. Did it warrant the waterworks spectacle I displayed? Probably not.
But then as I watched her and her classmates recite each word to three lengthy tunes as part of the music program, it dawned on me. My emotional breakdown was caused by Ysabel’s representation of life – not just the stages of development, but the amount that’s been lived.
You see, Ysabel is the youngest of 15 grandchildren on her dad’s – and my mom’s – side. She is also the only one my late grandmother wasn’t able to meet.
In fact, Ysabel’s parents learned they were expecting their second child, and only daughter, just a few months after my Lita’s passing.
She was the sign of new life – and hope – to our grief-stricken family.
It baffles me that in the time that our Lita’s been gone, we’ve welcomed and fallen in love with the youngest member of our family. We’ve witnessed the evolution of a calm baby to an energetic tot and now a smart and spunky almost-first-grader.
Her heart-melting pronunciation of words – “rubber-be-and!” for “rubberband” – has become a strong bank of well-spoken vocabulary. And instead of being read to, she’s become the reader, sometimes ditching the book to better entertain us with one of her own stories, retrieved from the depths of her fascinating imagination.
She’s not so much for cuddling and being held anymore. Instead, she challenges us to jumping contests on the trampoline and rides on the four-wheeler.
But one thing remains, unwavering – she still charms us with a brutally honest demeanor that is eerily reminiscent of our grandmother.
“You know, if you put barrettes in your hair, it won’t be so crazy,” she informed me recently.
“Are you trying to tell me my hair is crazy?” I ask.
“Well … ” her voice trails off. “But I like your earrings! You always have the best earrings!”
That was just like our Lita – holding nothing back in telling us how it was, yet softenining the blow with a compliment as an ending remark.
Ysabel will never know the love of our Lita, but the rest of our family is reminded through Ysabel.
For that, I couldn’t be more proud.
Erika is a reporter for the Messenger.