On Friendship

I’ve been thinking a lot about Stinkerbelle growing up, since she’s off to school in the fall. I guess it is inevitable. (Both the going to school, and the thinking about it.)

There are always bittersweet feelings. One in particular, which is probably common to parents the world over, is knowing that soon, the precious, genuine wonder and innocence of how their child views and interacts with the world will begin to be eroded.

And like many parents, it makes me sad.

To all who know her, Stinkerbelle is a little girl who is best described as exuberant. She has a sunny, unfailingly positive outlook and genuinely, truly loves to meet people. Everyone is a friend. She loves everyone with all her heart.

Today, after school, she and I were walking out, and one of her classmates came by. Rowan is a good boy. He’s a boy’s boy, rough and tumble and sporty, but a good kid.

Stinkerbelle loves him. She loves EVERYONE.

“Hi Rowan!” she called out to him as she saw him approaching. “Hi! Hi, Rowan!” She was genuinely happy to see him.

He said nothing. He was immersed in bouncing a ball. His mother prompted him, “Hey, That Girl is saying hi to you.”

Rowan looked up and muttered a halfhearted “Hi” and then went back to bouncing his ball. And Stinkerbelle went about her day as well. No big deal.

But although it was something so small, it got me thinking. Soon, as she starts out on her first big adventure in the world — Big Girl School — my girl’s boundless enthusiasm and love for her friends and her potential friends might not always be met in kind. And, most probably, occasionally will be met with unkindness.

And it made me suddenly very sad.

I hate to think of anyone being mean to my child. I hate the thought that one day, her extending of friendship to someone will be rebuffed. I hate to think that that joy, that love, that boundless excitement of “friends” will become tarnished and dented. It is one of the things I love most about her.

And it will change.

Her sweetness and joy right now is so innocent, any ill-treatment by others just bounces off her. She simply can’t conceive of anyone being mean to her. She hasn’t got an iota of meanness or selfishness in her character, and thus genuinely can’t understand it — even in the case where one of her classmates last year was cornering her and hitting her, she insisted that the girl was her friend. And so maybe a little bit of bumping and scratching of the shiny innocent love of all potential friends is a good thing.

But the thought that something so elemental about her will change is scary, and scarier still is the prospect that she will someday learn that to be rebuffed and ill-treated hurts and I cannot protect her from that.

It saddens me. I will miss that innocent love and joy of friendship and trust that everyone loves her as much as she loves them.

But one benefit is that, because she has been such a loving and genuine friend, next year and moving forward, she will have kids she has already befriended — kids like Rowan for whom friendship also runs deep and others who will also be in her class at Big Girl School next year — that she can rely on to stand by her and defend her if ever she has a need. As she would do for them.

It’s what friends do.

And moms like me have to learn to let it all happen, and trust that, mixed in with the innocence and the love, you’ve also somewhere instilled in them what it means to be a good friend.