In another lifetime, my daughter was not a tween. Back when she was a dimpled toddler whom I slung heavily over one hip and carried around like an extra limb. I picked out her clothes, her snacks, her toys, and I picked out her friends—babies whose moms were friends of mine already.
The kids didn’t care much for the company. They parallel played while we believed we were providing opportunities for important developmental skills (maybe we were).
Meanwhile, we poured ourselves out over cups and cups of coffee, and we helped each other survive. I don’t remember anything we talked about. It was nothing and it was necessary.
My daughter is no longer a toddler; she is twelve. She does her own laundry, she makes herself breakfast, she saves her money to buy music and survival gear, and she picks out her own friends.
It is autumn, and she is telling me about these new friends she has made as we walk arm-in-arm to the neighborhood coffee shop.
“They are like, my best friends,” she tells me. “I wonder if we’ll be each other’s weddings? Maybe our kids will have their own club like we do,” she says.
Silently, I laugh it off. It is a cute thing to say, but what adult is still acquainted with her friends from middle school? Besides, these friendships are so new. She has no idea who her friends will be in a year, let alone twenty.
I keep silent and just smile as we walk along.
* * *
It is winter, and my daughter has invited her friends over after school. Their moms are at home, or grocery shopping, or working, or sitting in peace. Another day it will be someone else’s turn, and my house will be the quiet one. But today, they sit around my table drinking warm cups of tea while I catch fragments of conversation.
Everything is the most funny. The most heartbreaking. The most annoying. The most amazing. They talk about how their siblings drive them crazy, but also how much they love them. They commiserate over difficult schoolwork. They all bring ukuleles and sing every song they know. In harmony.
My daughter’s friend walks by the front window and gasps, “Look at the sunset!” The girls throw down their phones and devices. It is a bitter February evening, but they don’t bother with shoes or jackets. They run out the door and climb the tree so they can see it better. Because they don’t want to miss it. Because they are good at recognizing beauty in the world. Because when they see it, they chase it down and invite each other in.
They stand tall in the tree watching the bright blaze in the western sky. I stand on the porch and I hear one girl say to the others, “I hope my mom is seeing this—she really loves sunsets.” And they all sigh in unison as they watch the sun disappear over the tops of houses.
* * *
It is spring, and my daughter is at the park with her friends. I sit on the grass with the other moms—strong, supportive women I have come to know through our daughters’ friendships.
I revel in the late afternoon sun and the reality that I no longer have to keep a watchful eye on my baby climbing the wrong way up the slide or hoarding the only shovel in the sandbox.
But suddenly, there is a commotion from the playground. I look up to see my tween daughter stuck inside a baby swing. She had, for some reason, thought it a good idea to climb in there, and she cannot get back out. Her legs dangle straight and long out of the holes of the swing like a baby giraffe.
She is laughing.
Her friends are laughing.
I am laughing.
I don’t get up to help—I don’t have to.
One of my daughter’s friends holds the swing steady so that she can pull herself up more easily. They call the older siblings who come running to help. Finally, another friend climbs beneath her on all fours so that my daughter can stand up out of the swing, fully supported, on her friend’s back.
It is a small problem—being stuck in a baby swing—but there is no way for her to get out without help. They surround her. They support her. They lift her up.
She wriggles free and they run off to their next adventure. Pink cheeked and out of breath from laughing.
It takes a village to raise a child, but I realize that my child has gathered a village of her own. And the burden I’ve carried to love and protect and nurture her is a little bit lighter as I watch them step in and do the job with ease.
Someday, she might go to college, might get married, might have a demanding job, might have demanding babies. Maybe some of her old village will remain, or maybe the passing of time or a move to a different city will bring her a new one. Surely having tasted friendship that is good and true, she will recognize it whenever it comes again.
I pray that when the stakes are higher than a baby swing, she will be surrounded by friends who are eager to help. Friends who will sit with her through the mundane, who will help pull her out of her darkest struggle, and who will chase the beauty in the world and make sure she doesn’t miss it.
* * *
It is almost summer, and a full school year has gone by since my daughter made these precious friends—girls who now seem like part of her extended family. With the end of the school year drawing near, we have been slack on homework and responsibilities and, as always, there are a million things we should be doing. But when I pull up in the car line, there are three bright faces begging for an impromptu after-school play date, and I cave.
They ride to my house all light and laughter in the backseat. Their voices carry over each other. Memories and inside jokes. Hard moments from the school day. Whispers. Plans. Little things. Big things. It is nothing and it is necessary.
I keep silent and just smile as we drive along.
Flo Paris Oakes is a freelance writer, author, and songwriter whose passions include good food (both eating and making), storytelling, conservation, and especially the convergence of all three. Flo writes for Nashville A Rocha and is a member of the children’s band Rain for Roots. You can read more on her website: www.floparisoakes.com.