Friday, September 18, 2015

My Best Friends Are Five-Year-Olds

Tuesday was the first day of school for our class of two-year-olds. Some children didn't find a need to speak aloud to me, nor will they for several weeks. I mean, they don't know me: at best they're just taking their parents' word for it that I'm an okay guy. I don't blame them for wanting to wait to make their own decisions.

This is even true for kids like this one who has been coming to our school for longer than her lifetime, dropping off her older sister, all the way back to the womb. A year ago, she would flirt with me from her mother's arms, and now our school is her own.

Last Friday, I substitute taught our new kindergarten class for a couple hours when Teacher Rachel had to be away. Many of her kids are children I met as two-year-olds as well, and who I've been teaching for the past three years. I found myself delighting in the easy familiarity we all have together. It occurred to me as we sat around cracking jokes (many of the inside variety), sharing ideas and making plans, that these people are, in a very real sense, my best friends. It was an odd thought at first, a grown man with five-year-old best friends, but the truth is that I've spent more time with these children over the past three years than anyone besides my own family. I know them, they know me, and we love one another without reservation. We've been through tears and joy together, conflict and cooperation, failure and success. If that's not the stuff from which best friends are made, I don't know what is.

As I watched this younger sister, striving to reach the trapeze bar, then to summon up the courage to let herself swing freely, I found myself missing her sister, another best friend, who is this year beginning her kindergarten journey at another school. And not just her, but all of them, all of the children who have blessed me with their love and friendship, then moved on with their lives. Years from now, when I run into them around the neighborhood, many will act shyly toward me; understandable, but a bit heartbreaking nevertheless.

I made eye contact with this little sister, who smiled at me before launching herself on the trapeze bar, swinging back and forth before landing her feet on the stool she had used to reach the bar in the first place. She smiled at me again, speaking without words, Did you see what I just did?

I gave her a thumb's up.

She swung again. I gave her another thumb's up, this time adding, "You did that."

She swung again and again and again. I replied again and again and again until it was a game we were playing or maybe a joke we were telling. Some day, I'll miss her too, but for now we'll be best friends.

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