It is a moment captured in time - five 12-year-old girls skipping up a dirt path, shopping bags in tow, to pick apples at Bailey's Orchard in Whitefield, Maine on a late September day.
One of many beautiful photos taken that afternoon by our friend Sue Brannigan, this one of my oldest child Emma and her friends is perhaps my favorite - both for what it shows and what it represents.
For the past eight school years, I have watched these children and their classmates grow, cheered them at countless sporting events, laughed at their jokes. I have been a witness to and participant in their journey toward adolescence. Now, as the start of their seventh grade year has already shown me, they truly are on the cusp of their teen years - a transition technically still a few months away for most, but one that is most definitely in motion.
And while intellectually I convinced myself I was ready for this change, my heart tells me I'm not. I am not ready for the cattiness, the meanspirited words and actions that teenagers use to build themselves up while tearing each other down. I am not ready for the hurt feelings, the sadness caused by others that I can neither rationalize nor explain in a way that my daughter can comprehend and accept.
I am not prepared to watch children I have known for more than half their lives - children whose birthday parties I've attended and who have been integrated into our family life through sleepovers and other gatherings - work to destroy the psyche of "friends" through their actions. And yet, I know I will have to survive my parental journey through adolescence like so many others have before me. And my daughter, a child whose inner beauty surpasses her outward appearance, will survive this transition with the love and support of family and true friends.
For now, though, I will treasure the orchard photo for its ability to capture a fleeting moment, one of young girls moving toward the women they will someday become.