It’s true that they’ll wind up growing up together by default; Telluride is a small town, and thus all the kids that were born around the same time will inevitably share school days and birthday parties from now to graduation day. But not all of them will call each other their best friend.
Elle and Lilly are three years old, born almost exactly one month apart. At three years old, one hasn’t been exposed to enough social innuendo to know to put a label on something like a relationship; so Elle doesn’t call Lilly her best friend. She doesn’t call her anything but Lilly.
“Lilly! Lilly! I have to tell you something.”
“Lilly! Lilly! Be my part-en-er.”
“Lilly! Lilly! Wait for me.”
Their friendship started before they had words, when they were infants at daycare together. I showed up one day to find Elle, in overalls, shuffling across the carpet on hands-and-knees in pursuit of Lilly (who was also, funnily, dressed in overalls.) Both babies were laughing that throaty, makes-your-heart-want-to-melt laugh that only babies can laugh. Oblivious to everything around them except each other.
The two are still oblivious to most things, besides each other, when they’re together.
Elle hasn’t gotten to see her best friend for nearly a month since she caught the virus that put her on a ventilator and in Children’s Hospital in Denver, thereby transforming her father and I into certifiable germaphobes.
After the craziness of a life-threatening communicable disease, my impulse is, admittedly, to lock my kid in a sanitized tower for the rest of her childhood. While living out Rapunzel’s fairy tale may keep my firstborn from catching any of the illnesses passed from one kid to another like a Show and Tell treasure during these long, small town winters, I realize that impulse isn’t altogether the best medicine for my child’s mental health… which, after an experience like she’s had, is an important component of her overall wellbeing, too.
So I squashed the urge to spend another Saturday sequestered in my home with my now-healed daughter, and went instead to Lilly’s birthday party.
“ELODIE!” Lilly screamed, emerging from the front door as if transported on the bright pink cloud created by her birthday tutu. In a flurry of game-playing, piñata-smacking, and cake-eating, Elle’s month of playdate-less Saturdays came to a glorious end. Watching my child fall so seamlessly back into her three-year-old normalcy felt like the first spell of springtime rain, washing away the grit and grime leftover from a long and taxing winter.
At one point in the festivities, Elle emerged from the fracas wailing about an injury.
“Mommy, I really hurt my elbow!” she moaned. I brushed the hair out of her tear-rimmed eyes, kissed her on the sweaty forehead, squeezed her tight – all the things a mother does to mend a child’s wounds… To no avail. Elle’s tears wouldn’t quit.
Lilly, interrupted from her birthday merriment by the sobs, appeared at Elle’s side, placing a skinny little arm around her shoulders.
“Elodie?” she said, effusive with three-year-old concern.
Elle, who had buried her face into my legs, turned now to her best friend, accepting the hug that was offered.
“Lilly, Lilly,” she sniffled. “I have to tell you something…”
And she was healed.
Girls can be shockingly mean. It is the stuff of an entire genre of books and film. Luckily, at three years old, that petrie dish of adolescent hormones and cultural cues has not yet grown polluted enough to cultivate that meanness. At three years old, there is friendship, and it is as pure and as refreshing as a springtime shower.
As parents, we protect and cultivate these growing little beings. We play with them, laugh with them, and cry with them… but we do so as parents. Not, necessarily, as friends.
The companionship of a friend, someone who isn’t a given but is instead chosen to hold your hand through life’s long winters, and celebrate beside you when spring arrives, is such a special gift. I may be the person who witnessed her first breath, fed her from my breast and wiped her bottom (and continues to wipe her bottom), but the comfort I can offer my daughter, as her mother, is not like the comfort of a best friend.
Thank you, to all of our family’s best friends, for celebrating the coming of spring with us.