Ten-ish years ago, one of my best childhood friends and her husband split up. Being engaged, rounding 30 and kidless, I can’t say I at all understood how difficult her decision to venture forward on her own with two young daughters really was. But I did what I knew to do as a long-time friend — I simply spent a lot of time with her. We regaled her daughters with stories about the things we did when we were girls: the songs we liked to sing until 2 am, the way we seemed to be perpetually rearranging each other’s bedrooms, our gullibility in thinking that we could be “discovered” by a Hollywood agent on the way to buy milk for her mom in suburban Ohio.
And we laughed like crazy. We laughed with her girls the way we did when we were girls together. I accompanied them on mundane trips to the drug store. They liked to brush and braid my hair when we talked. Like their mom, I began to count the girls among my best friends.
“You should have a baby, Tracy,” her older daughter – six or seven-ish at the time –told me while thumbing through stickers at a craft store. “So we can be friends with her and play with her.”
Soon enough, I told her, reminding her that a baby is a long way from a kid. That a baby could also be a boy. A baby would be okay, she told me. Maybe not a boy, but… well, she could babysit him. Maybe.
Her younger daughter was four or five-ish in that time. I liked to read Shel Silverstein poems to her at bedtime. A born comedian, she was already delivering jokes punctuated with “I’ll be here all week” and cracking me up with nonsequitur statements like “I’m weak without light” when I had a mouthful of food. I told her mom that she needed to investigate whether there was any such thing as a kids’ comedy camp in the Catskill Mountains.
I realized in that time what perfection childhood can be. How deserving every kid is of an appreciative audience now and then, how happy and privileged I felt to be in the front row of their lives, how fun it is to make sense of the world through play. They taught me that there’s something about the way of seeing things when you’re around five that’s utterly spectacular well before I had my own almost five-year-old.
Their mom was in the hospital with us when my son was born, and the girls both held him in the first days of his life. They are teenagers now. And as their social lives grow, I don’t always see them when I see their mom, but when I do, I see that they both have the patience for and joy in play with Declan that their mother had with them.
We spent the whole day together about a week ago, doing the same kinds of simple, everyday things we did a decade ago. Declan was talking about the sizes of different breeds of puppies at lunchtime, so we all went and looked at some. We did household errands, made infinitely more interesting because we were all doing them together. The girls asked my son for hugs and tickled him and their mom bought him a $3 ball.
Before we left, we sat on the floor of their house, playing “Hot Potato,” but no one was really ever out. Declan held onto the ball every round, hitting my still deadpan comedy-inclined teenage friend with it at the last minute while laughing hysterically.
Lately, I’ve been testing the elasticity of many of the friendships I’ve collected in this life and finding that they can snap back into shape more easily than I realized. A week ago I had a day that, on paper, may look pretty unspectacular. But it was a great day.