Preschool Style

The concept of friendship is almost bizarre if you really think about it. What’s the moment your relationship with another human being suddenly moves beyond an acquaintance or coworker or stranger and into this friendship zone that comes along with a certain understanding of each other?

What drop of rain overflows the bucket?

As a child, forming friendships is effortless.

“Do you want to play with us at lunch?” The third-grade strawberry blonde called Rachel walked up to me. She had bangs, and her hair was straight around her shoulders. She wore a pink zip jacket with purple legging pants and nearly white tennis shoes that lit up as she waddled. She smiled, a front tooth missing.

“Okay,” I said quietly, shuffling my feet and brushing my tangled hair behind one of my ears.

“Nikki and I are going to play animals. We are shivering in the cold by the tree, waiting for someone to come rescue us.”

“Okay,” I said again. “Can I be a kitty?” Which is funny, because as an adult I am certainly not a cat person. Something living in my house that poops in a box and hops on my counter? No thanks.

“Nikki is the kitty,” Rachel said matter-of-factly. “I’m a puppy. Maybe you can be the bunny?”

I didn’t argue; I was just happy to be included. I twitched my nose like a bunny and stuck my teeth out in front of my lower lip. “Bunny,” I repeated.

“Great!” she exclaimed. “We will meet you by the tree after lunch time!”

Animal games at recess turned into lunchtime conversations, and lunchtime conversations soon gave way to Barbie games on our bedroom floors. Barbie games morphed to soccer games, and phone calls turned into Instant Message conversations on AOL. (If you’re under twenty, you haven’t the slightest idea what I’m talking about.)  Through these transitions, Rachel became my best friend. I met Rachel in the year 2000.  We’ve been best friends for nineteen years. And for fourteen of those years and counting, 300 miles sat between us.

We must be doing something right, here.

Somehow, we’ve gone from shivering animals to women with careers and houses and husbands.

WHAT just HAPPENED?

I want to talk about love for a moment. Because the concept of love and understanding it is #adulting. I don’t want to talk about the romantic love you think you feel at 16, or you know you feel at 30. Not a sexual love or feeling of lust. Right now, I’m talking about feeling love for another person, regardless of sex or age. Much like the love you feel for your sister or your father. But this person isn’t blood.

I’m talking about looking at someone and feeling like your world is so different with them in it.  It’s the difference between “I love you” and “I’m in love with you”.

Someone once asked me if I loved my best friend, if I loved Rachel. I wasn’t sure how to respond. They then prompted me, “if she died, would you cry?”

“Well, yes,” I agreed.
“Then you love her.”
Fair enough. But I cried when a friend’s mother passed on. Does that mean I loved my friend’s mother? Or did I cry out of remorse for my friend? I cried when I learned of Alan Rickman’s death. Does that mean I loved him? (Well. I did. But I didn’t know him. Just his characters. And that intoxicating way of speech.)

This “love” word gets tossed around a lot. We say it to our friends and coworkers like it’s just another word. I do think it is overused, but I also think it’s not just meant for the romantic feelings you feel for someone.

I love my husband. I love my sister and my parents and my grandparents and my aunts and uncles and cousins. I also love Rachel.

I was in 9th grade when I realized that. I was moving away from the small town of Columbia Station in Ohio and heading all the way to Rockford, Michigan with my family. Looking back, this truly was the best move for my family, and everything worked out well. But when you’re in the middle of your freshman year of high school and you’re facing goodbye with your best friend since the third grade, there is no stopping the hot tears rolling down your cheeks.

I said goodbye to a lot of people that night, but I only cried when it came to Rachel.

I didn’t even cry saying goodbye to my boyfriend (who later turned out to be super-hero gay, so it’s all good.)

Despite the miles, we remained close. My connection with her was elastic enough to stretch 300 miles, and I am eternally grateful for that morning she asked a lonely third grader to play.

Why isn’t making friends that easy as an adult? Why can’t I sit beside you on our lunch break and claim you as mine? If I did that, you’d probably look at me funny and take your lunch elsewhere. But you should be so lucky for me to claim you. I’m a ride-or-die kind of friend. You need a shoulder to cry on? You got it. Need some comic relief? I’m your girl. Need a body buried? I own 7 acres.

The fact is, we don’t talk to one another like we used to. Perhaps children hold this elusive innocence and an uncomplicated understanding of the world. This innocence leads them to asking the new girl to play animals by the tree, and it changes her life forever.

Adults don’t do that, but maybe we should.

Let’s kick it preschool style.

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