My Best Friend is a 5-year-old

Zo 4th July

I’m writing this from inside a closet under our stairs. It’s the 4th of July, and my 5-year-old daughter is covered in festive gear from head to toe. She has my American flag scarf tied around her waist, a bright plastic light-up necklace, and a red, white, and blue shirt. And she is wearing a princess crown, just like literally every day since March 13. 

She’s invited me to a “light up party” in the dark closet, lit only by her tiny flashlight and my iPad as we snuggle next to the holiday decorations and discuss each one in depth. 

Questions/comments include: When is Halloween? Is it soon? Why is there glitter here? I found Olaf! He plays a song! Do I look like a reindeer? Ooh, what’s this? Mom, an Easter egg! Ugh, it’s empty! She needs my participation and brief acknowledgment but does not wait for me to respond. It’s off to the next question, the next thing. 

As we sit there enjoying our unstructured exploration of holiday storage, spontaneously doing nothing and something all at once, I think to myself, maybe this is more like camp than I thought… 

Each year during staff training, we collectively mourn the loss of boredom in our society. We teach about the creativity and problem-solving that emerge when children (and adults) have space to experiment, make their own fun, and create their own adventures. This is what we aim to facilitate at camp each summer. 

At training, we talk about the adjustment period during the first few days of camp. Children arrive and say, “what are you going to do to entertain me?” Hours later, they’re in the wilderness preserve asking, “do you think we should use the leaves as money in our stick store?” 

Kids’ imaginations explode with ideas once they see their environment in a new way – not as a place in which to be passively entertained but something to actively engage with, transform, and rethink into something new. 

During these endless days at home and the hours upon hours of family time – which have been both challenging and lovely – I realize that my daughter and I are both doing camp together in a way. We are a tiny camp group of 2, alternating roles. I am counselor, she is camper. She is counselor, I am camper. We are best friends. 

We are finding silliness in nothing in particular. For example, we now call everything “sweetie.” If she bonks her arm, she’ll say, “I hurt my sweetie elbow.” We try to make things exciting by altering them and making them new. Last night, she decided we’d read her favorite book backwards just for fun. 

When I’m in charge, I make up science experiments (Ex: Which cereal floats the most? Answer = Lucky Charms) or random games like How Long Can We Talk With a British Accent Before We Just Can’t Stand It Anymore (answer = about 12 minutes). 

Other times, my daughter takes the lead, and she’s the camp counselor, the initiator of fun. (Truth be told, she’s better at it than I am – that’s the real secret behind camp.) She’s taught me the Three Marker Challenge where we pick three markers without looking then make a picture with them. Today, she made up a game called What Am I Looking At? (Yes, it’s just like it sounds.) She does what we do at camp. By naming something – a game, activity, challenge – it inherently becomes more fun and official. 

Sometimes, our play involves the cutest and sweetest moments we’ve ever had. Other times, she and I both end up crying at the same time after something seemingly small, like yesterday when I ruined my husband’s new Baby Yoda mug by putting it in the dishwasher. Our feelings are turned up to high – like they are at camp – when so many things still feel uncertain and unknown. 

Like real best friends, she and I play together easily much of the time. On occasion (or 17 times per day), we have to negotiate to determine the right timing or the best sequence in order to compromise. Once in a while, we hurt each others’ feelings or misunderstand one another. We have to apologize and talk it out. We call those our “on the stairs talks.” We named that too so we’d know what to expect. We sit close and talk softly, not angrily. 

This is why we are best friends. We are doing all the things together. We are learning about each other and alongside each other. Plus, she is fun, really fun. And she’s becoming a great buddy. I would take credit, but I know this is a symbiotic relationship.   

Sometimes, like at camp, being together all day every day is not easy. It’s not supposed to be. Learning and growing and relationships don’t come from “easy.” They come from “hard” – from boredom and angst and conflict resulting in creating, problem-solving, and communicating. 

There are many hard things happening outside of our mother-daughter world, a global pandemic, police brutality, systemic racism, economic crisis, drastic increases in mental health issues to name just a few. They are vitally important, and we – camp and my family included – have much work to do. 

Yet, we will not be equipped to be helpers and educators and problem-solvers if we are only looking for the brokenness. The brokenness is clear. We won’t miss it unless we avoid it. But the good…it is there too, and it is so easy to miss or dismiss, especially now. Lately, I feel a nagging reminder to continually look for the possible growth in all of this, to notice what new opportunities our kids *might be* experiencing. 

Did their boredom while I was on my Zoom call result in a new game? Did their lack of time with friends foster closeness in their sibling relationship? Might they have learned to make their own lunch because I couldn’t do it every day in the middle of the work day? Have they explored new places in the yard because they looked longer and with a new lens? 

I’m not sure if your experiences match ours or if your best friend is a 5-year-old, but I wish you the kind of camp growth and learning we are experiencing over here spurred by precious boredom. I also hope for stamina and sanity for you during times that feel impossibly redundant or cripplingly lonely. We are feeling that here, too. 

“I think we should go now,” my daughter says suddenly. “We’ve been in here a long time. You coming?” 

“Yes, I’m coming,” I answer. “What are we doing next?” 

“It’s time to take pictures of our sweetie faces then take my walking stick for a hike.” I’m in. 

 

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