Saturday, June 02, 2007

First Best Friend

When J writes long notes to her best friend Katie, I remember my first best friend ever. Her name was Rinku. Like J, we were both about five then and that is the end of all similarities between the friendships. Katie is a third grader J first met at another kid's birthday party. At eight years old she is not a whole lot bigger than J. Remarkably mature, well-mannered and sweet natured, Katie easily wows the parents. Apparently, Katie loved J right away.

J kept begging me to call her mother and set up a play date for the two of them. Having briefly met a mother at a school event earlier, I was not sure how the request would be received but decided to ask her anyways. The opportunity came on the day of the Spring Carnival at J's school. Katie and her mom, Patty were there too.

I broached the subject of the play-date. The expression on Patty's face was one of amusement meeting surprise. Knowing how badly J wanted to play with Katie, I offered her my phone number despite that look. She said "Don't worry about it, we'll figure something out later"

Katie comes to play with Lindsey's kids and J bumps into her either at the tot-lot or at the pool. They are delighted to see each other and enjoy every minute they have together. Back home J writes "Dear Katie, I loved playing with you today. You are my best friend. I love you. I want to play with you again. Please come to my house. Your Best Friend, J" She asks me to help her spell the bigger words. When I go to pick her up at from after-school care, I find even longer notes written to Katie in her backpack.

I ask her what she wants to do with those notes and she says "I will give them to Katie when I meet her". Since the meetings are completely by chance, J never has an opportunity. The notes gather in an envelope in her room. I can imagine Patty reading them with a supercilious smile playing on her face if one of them ever made their way to Katie. Rinku and I were always together. Our parents connected because of us.

The best days of my childhood were when I saw Rinku and her parents come down the road to our house on their Vespa scooter. If anything spelt utter happiness that did. We went over to her house frequently. Then I moved to a different town, we lost contact and grew up. Yet for about one year, I enjoyed the special magic that your first childhood best friend brings to your life - you never forget.

Reading J's notes brings a lump to my throat knowing that I can't help her cross the cultural and racial barriers to reach the first best friend of her life. I don't know how to tell her that adults can sometimes be prejudiced to the point where they end up hurting those they love the most. Patty chooses not notice how Katie's face lights up when she sees J. When she grows up, J will probably remember the notes of love and affection that were so painstakingly written but never given, the bitter-sweet longing to be with a friend that remained just that - a longing.

There is a lot a parent can give a child, we may even want to take upon ourselves their unhappiness and disappointment so they can have only joy. But try as you might, you cannot be their shield against the world. Just like everyone else, they must go out on a limb, take chances and sometimes come home hurt.


ggop said...

This made me so nostalgic about best friends in childhood. I feel so bad for both the girls. You are right - you can't shield J from people like Patty hurting her.

Heartcrossings said...

ggop - I have had a few conversations with J about the nature of friendship and how she should not allow this to hurt her.

It seems like you have to decide between letting your child be emotionally senstive and passionate making them vulnerable to injury or pain or teaching them to overcome, be strong and practical.