One of the hidden and unexpected joys of mothering my all-American daughter has been witnessing her form friendships. When it happens, I can almost see the magical spark it takes to initially ignite a friendship. Watching my daughter interact with a new friend has been akin to observing a flower blossom on time lapse. Friendship comes so easily for her and I often ponder whether the behavior is innate or learned from watching her overly-friendly dad.
The birth of a (healthy) childhood friendship is a mix of innocence, vulnerability, and love. On our recent vacation to Hawaii, my six-year-old daughter caught a glimpse of a freckle-faced brunette with hazel eyes doing cartwheels on the almost fluorescent green grass below our balcony.
“There’s a girl my age down there,” my daughter said to me. “Can I go down and say hi?”
With no ambivalence or worst case scenarios dancing in her head, she only imagines positive outcomes: making friends, having someone to play with, essentially connecting with a fellow human her size.
She ran downstairs and I watched their meeting. “I’m Mackenzie, I’m Kaitlyn” and within minutes they were laughing together and holding hands. HOLDING HANDS! Within fifteen minutes, my husband and I were downstairs meeting the little girl’s family. Within the week, we were planning our days together. After two weeks, there were tearful goodbyes, FaceTime from the airport, and cards put into the mail the day after we arrived home.
It was like watching a summer platonic romance in fast forward – or slow motion. Like the opening to the story of the friendship of their lives. Their days began early; by 7am they were in one of their rooms and dressed in bathing suits, Hawaiin dresses, or Princess nightgowns. I took them swimming together in the ocean and instructed them to hold onto each other for dear life. Their fingers intertwined, they laughed with every wave as I gasped and clenched them both. My daughter seemed to want to explain my neurotic, overprotective tendencies and told her new friend, “My mom worries a lot.” The friend responded, “My mom doesn’t.” I try to explain myself: “Well, we’re from New York City and you guys are from Southern California. Moms in New York City worry.”
When they said goodbye, even for an hour to eat lunch – they hugged as if they were separating forever. I watched them in awe trying to learn: this is what it means to truly live in the now. A child, before their brain has gotten stretched out like an old rubber band, doesn’t think beyond this moment. For them, a consequence is a myth, they exist only right here, right now, satiating their basic happiness needs.
In the pool, they swam laps, jumping in and taking turns diving for plastic colorful sticks. They shared crackers, both instinctually so considerate I realize it is a sign of happy, confident children and I give myself and Kaitlyn’s mom a mental pat on the back for loving up our girls so much they have the courage to open their hearts.
On our last night, after eating dinner on our lanai and watching our last Hawaiian sunset, the girls surprised us with a choreographed Hula dance clad in their Hawaii dresses with soft ukulele music in the background. Their hips swayed to the soft melody as the sun painted the sky in pinks, purples, oranges. I had one of those “look down at your life from above” moments and it was as if I had a vignette filter on an Instagram picture. Brighter and focused in the center, with a dark fuzz blocking out the rest of the world, our two families stood on a spectacular piece of paradise with our girls performing their vacation opus. The dads held cameras and the moms held tissues.
“This is one of those days we’ll always remember,” we tell the girls as they giggle and hug.
I try to remember more than these images; I try to hold onto the lesson of how leaving your heart open and going for what you want may yield exactly that.