It happened one night in the backyard. They began playing together in the grass like brightly colored buttons sewn on a piece of cloth. It’s funny and lovely to watch a group of young children begin to make friends. They start by cautiously circling one another, tattling because she took his toy or he pushed her on the slide. But before long their similarity in size and passion for climbing and screaming unites them, and they are suddenly a moving, breathing blob of kidness, all grass-stains, tangles and cracker crumbs, telling each other secrets and making up stories and sparring with makeshift swords. Meanwhile, their parents are drinking wine and talking about politics and money on the porch. It happens all by itself, like magic.
I enjoy watching it unfold, as if I’m looking through a portal in time. Last summer, these same children were unconsciously playing in the same general vicinity, with only tears or shrieks when someone else came too near. This summer, they are preschoolers. They have discovered that they are not alone and run about together putting leaves into cups. They set up house under a tree and scratch around the roots with sticks. It is a fragile fraternity, however. They can instantaneously go from holding hands to scratching and flailing on the ground, if we aren’t watching.
My 3-year-old is usually the antagonist, but that night he was wearing only a shirt, his curls still wet from the pool, and he found a playmate with long brown hair and one earring like a pirate, and they played so close to one another in the dirt that their arms were touching, even though he was a boy and she was a girl. Ella. Earlier that same day Jack raced her older sister to the pool, pressing their bodies like cookie cutters against the sky and feeling weightless for a split second before crashing into the water. Lily. Woodland sprites with long beautiful hair, noses covered in freckles painted with the teeniest, tiniest brush. Watching the other kids jump, dipping toes cautiously into the shallow end is Joe, a boy with the bluest eyes, who already takes care of all the others, standing vigilant against danger.
With these friends, I am beginning to see the makings of a childhood that Jack will remember all of his life. I imagine it will look like this night: Playing outside until it gets dark, creating whole kingdoms out of dirt. Coming inside for a bath with so many mosquito bites you can’t see where one ends and another begins. A tiny bit of sunburn on shoulders where the hours of pool-time took their toll. Heavy eyes while being tucked into bed and taking a last sip of milk, sucking on fingers and distractedly murmuring about “space planets” streaking across the dark sky. I’m pretty sure he will dream about running far and fast because when you’re little, your feet have wings.
Childhood is over too soon, but sometimes, the friends last. I hope these friends will make life sweet for one another. I hope they make mischief of one kind or another and take fantastic voyages that end up right back in their cozy bedroom. I hope they never have bigger problems than who is first in line at the slide. Like the quote by Anais Nin, I hope they learn that each friend “represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive.” I do know one thing for certain, as much as my weary body creaks in protest. I know they’ll all wake up tomorrow morning at dawn, ready to do it all again.