Ninjas, Rainbow Ponies, and Kindergarten Friendships as Dress Rehearsal for Marriage
My son’s closest friend is a girl. Their friendship has little to do with common interests and everything to do with convenience. They have adjacent backyards. It is the kindergarten equivalent of being cubicle mates.
I intentionally refrain from calling this neighbor his “girlfriend.” It is sort of a pet peeve of mine, people imposing that on little kids – projecting their own romantic experiences on children too small to reach the faucet without standing on a stool.
My son and this girl aren’t in love. It isn’t like that. When he pulls his pants down in front of her, it is because Tom & Jerry are on his boxer briefs, and he knows she is a fan the cartoon.
Anyway, I try not to impose grown-up roles on these two, but I was listening to them today, and they were every married couple I have ever heard. Him rambling on and on. Her politely listening without listening.
“Look, I made a Sensei Wu,” William said, a Lego figure in his hand.
“Uh huh,” she answered.
“And see, he still has his hat on under his helmet.”
She nodded once, but her gaze never left the iPad in her lap. She was playing an app that lets you groom a virtual dog. She was tapping the screen to brush the dog’s fur.
“And, look, I made Kai’s sword of fire,” William continued. “I didn’t actually have the real sword of fire, but I used the flame from another lego set, and I just put it on this, see? And it really looks like Kai’s sword.”
This sweet little girl. She nodded and said uh huh at all the right times, but she didn’t hear half of what he said. She couldn’t give a rip. She doesn’t care about ninjas. She does cares about William, though. He is her friend. She enjoys his company. She doesn’t mind if he carries on about Ninjago for a half hour.
It struck me that this was such a domestic interaction. This is how they will be thirty years from now with their respective spouses. She might be drafting a blog post on a laptop instead on blow-drying a virtual poodle, and he might be talking at length about about SEC football rather than ninjas, but the quality of the conversation, the comfort with which they engage, will be the same.
At some point, the roles reversed. William grew quiet in concentration, his tongue curled toward his ear as he constructed a tiny pair of nunchucks from his Legos, and the neighbor girl went off on a tear about rainbow ponies. William doesn’t care for rainbow ponies, but he listened. Without listening. He nodded, said uh huh, and played with his ninjas.
At some point the six-year-olds grew bored of their sedentary play and went outside. They both love playing outside. It is a passion they share. They jumped on the trampoline and visited the rabbits in their hutch. They dug a hole in the rain-soaked dirt with sticks and spoke of a home underground. A home that is secret. A place that no one knows about but them.
“We have to go through this hole to get to our house underground.” he said. “Pretend we can fit.”
And they put their hands together like divers. And they tucked their chins and mentally jumped into the hole. And they met up in a home that is known and familiar only to them. And that, too, is so very domestic. To agree upon a home that makes sense to you as a couple, if to no one else in the world, and dwell in it together. So maybe little kids really are more like us than I’d previously thought.