Growing up takes time, of course, but there are certain events that mark significant transitions in this maturing process. I'm sure that the further we move from the recent Higher Things Conference, the more we will recognize this as one of those events for Alena.
It all happened rather by accident. She's not really quite of the standard age for attending. But one youth member had to back out of the conference after registering, and, because there was a no refund policy, a replacement had to be found. I suppose there are others, a little older than Alena, that could have gone, but she was suggested by a couple people, and then practically begged for by another, so I could hardly say no. Thanks are due, by the way, to one female chaperon who offered to keep a special eye on her throughout the conference. That made the whole decision and the subsequent enjoying of the conference must easier.
So, for the first time in her life, and for a few days, Alena was basically on her own. Not that she was alone, of course, but she was largely responsible for her own decisions. She ate what she wanted, attended the sessions she wanted, and interacted with the people that she wanted to. (Apparently she couldn't sleep in as late as she wanted though; Karen had her up every day to be one of the first at breakfast :). ) There were other young people to help her and advise her, but that, more than anything strikes me as part of what it means to grow up: to engage with others who are peers, learn to do good and worthy things, and then actually to carry them out.
She appreciated all her sessions and seemed to follow them well. She took notes, and has been thinking about things she learned. She claims to have had the most fun of any child on the trip, and the ear-to-ear grin she wore every time that I saw her during the week supports that claim. She asked questions, met new people, both youth and adults, played games, and sang in the choir. You can also see it in the way she relates to her mother now that she's home again. They talk and converse about ideas; they share advice; she takes on greater responsibility each day.
So, just like that, the girl is becoming a woman. Of course she will mature much more in coming years, but I don't think it's incorrect to see this as a turning point. It also doesn't mean that I expect to burden her with the anxieties of adulthood. That's the joyless part that I'll keep from her as long as I can, without a bit of regret. But she is at the age where she still has the young spirit, with a mind that is beginning to think about ideas, consequences, meaning, and deep friendship. This is the fun age; the beginning of the best age, perhaps.
There is an ironic and perhaps melancholy line in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," where Indiana and Henry are discussing the relationship they had when Indiana was a child. Finally, Henry declares abruptly, "You left just when you were becoming interesting!"
Thankfully, it looks like it will still be a number of years before Alena leaves.