She had really no reason to expect otherwise, she supposed. Life was like this: people, mostly friendly and warm, coming and going, greeting her and fussing over her and then moving on. Other than close family, she really had never experienced the permanence of relationship. Teachers, peers, friends… everyone eventually went away.
But he was different. She couldn’t put her finger on why. Perhaps it was because they’d known each other most of their lives, although she could say that for one or two other acquaintances. Maybe there was some underlying connection between them that neither of them could have explained. It certainly wasn’t something she could put into words, but it was there. Others saw it and teased her about it, but she paid them no mind.
Truthfully, she paid it no mind when he left, too; this was the transient nature of her life. And yet, there was something missing, some absence that pervaded her days and clung to her fingers. Perhaps she just couldn’t be aware of what he’d meant to her until he was gone. But even then it remained an intangible thing, hanging in the back of her mind like a shadow. It would continue to remain elusive for her for years; perhaps forever. But something became clear for her one day, as if the clouds had been dispelled and the sun had brightly shone down on the drabness of her mundane activities.
The day, like any other day, with its usual introductions among peers and staff, had commenced without fanfare. But then there he was, standing in the doorway, looking perhaps a little surprised or bemused at how little had changed. It had only been a week, but time meant nothing to her – he was back! Before he could even spot her across the room, she found herself hurrying toward him. Her feet, always slightly unsteady and a step behind her intentions, had found a new resolve and carried her across the floor with determination. He saw her and stood in place, watching her approach him, a smile beginning to cross the planes of his soft cheeks.
Her smile, however, was wide and open. Her arms outstretched, she grasped his shoulders in her fingers. No words came forth, although a cheerful, relieved sound began to escape her throat. She leaned forward, her arms over his shoulders. Her embrace may have been uncertain, but her happiness at his return certainly wasn’t; she straightened up again and leaned in, her lips daintily perched upon his nose for her to kiss him, faltering but wholeheartedly. She had no idea what he was thinking, but she didn’t care in the slightest; whatever was happening, she only knew that she was delighted to see him again.
The above narrative is both my initial attempt to write a romance story as well as the description of what happened this week when our little girl’s favorite daycare buddy returned from his family vacation. We were not present for this blissfully sweet occurrence, but we have had it recounted to us by several daycare workers and the little boy’s mother. (I, of course, have taken dramatic liberties in presenting it to you, the reader, for the purpose of learning and examining the craft that makes Danielle Steele so popular.)
Since she’s been attending daycare, she and this particular boy have been buddies. They would smile and coo at each other before they could even crawl, and it was often reported that he would cry when our little girl was scooped up for a diaper change. There were stories of competition between him and other boys in the class, with him usually winning out. Despite the fact that she was for several months the only girl in the class, this little boy tended to be her preferred playmate.
And so a narrative has developed, one that puts these two little children as buddies, friends, perhaps sweethearts. It’s sweet and amusing and infinitely cute. I mean, she ran across the room and kissed him when he came back from vacation! How adorable is that, people! But, of course, they’re fifteen months old. They can’t even talk. So I really have to wonder how much of this is an imposed interpretation from the adults surrounding them.
I’m not at all suggesting that they aren’t buddies. They are; it’s clear even in the limited observations we’ve had in picking her up and dropping her off that she likes to play with him. Of course, at this age, “play with” is even a limited prospect. They call it parallel play, meaning they play at the same time next to each other. But they smile and giggle and coo at each other, too, and obviously she was glad to see him again when he returned. (And he often cries when she leaves, so we’re told.) I can easily see them becoming buddies as they grow older, two schoolmates who become inseparable friends as they progress through daycare and elementary school. That happens a lot with kids, and it’s a beautiful reminder of how friendships can be enduring and nurturing.
But, let’s face it: it’s also an adult narrative. I mean, ultimately, kids are only placed together under the circumstances their parents arrange. My wife and I have already had discussions about when we will have this little boy over for a playdate. We think it’s cute, but we’ve also bought into this narrative that they’re fast friends. Isn’t it possible that she’s just as happy to see others of her peers, but the narrative hasn’t developed that she’s sweethearts with any of them? I mean, if she ran and kissed one of her girl playmates, would the daycare workers tell us about that? And even if they did, would it have the same narrative spin? I kind of doubt it.
Again, I’m not saying childhood friendship is just a pack of lies. Of course it isn’t, and I believe this budding friendship is as real as two toddlers can have. I only want to notice the social contrivances at play at such an early stage in children’s development. And I’m not even saying it’s a bad thing; actually, I think it’s probably a very good thing, because it helps children learn how to build and develop relationships. But we often describe our adult friendships, and particularly our adult romances, in terms of “chemistry” and “personality” and such intangible concepts. And I wonder if it has more to do with the narratives the adults in our lives gave us – perhaps imposed upon us – when we were small.
I’m thrilled that my little girl seems so friendly and happy. I love that she seems to love being with her peers. It tickles me to play into this narrative that she’s already found herself a sweetheart – and that she makes him cry (own it, girl!). I’m not going to refrain myself from offering these narratives. But I also want to be aware that this is what they are: narratives that I offer her in order to help her learn the depth and significance of human relationships. It’s a beautiful thing, but it’s less mysterious than we often believe – or want to believe.