At her party, surrounded by twelve friends, the birthday girl opened her gifts. Gently pressing her fingertips into wrapping paper, letting the shards and ribbons land in the grass at her feet while twelve pairs of eyes waited for theirs to be next. Surrounded by a dozen friends, the birthday girl slid a finger into the seam of the smallest box. A mom and daughter pressed in closer, and beamed as the newly-minted six-year-old pulled the shiny, enameled necklace from its package and dangled it on her pink-polished finger.
“BFF” glinted in the low summer sun. It sparkled in the eyes of the girl who’d given it as she reached over to claim her half of the necklace. Her mom helped both girls put them on.
For the rest of the afternoon, the pair shared everything. They both climbed into a hula-hoop, split a piece of cake, and if they could have figured out how to poke two straws into one juice box, they’d have shared that too.
I’ve said no a thousand times to my five-year-old's requests for BFF anything. I’m not on board with BFFs, and especially not in elementary school. Even if I were in the substantial camp of parents who find BFFs endearing—and I get why they do, honestly—I wouldn’t have gifted a two-piece necklace to a girl to open during a party of dozen friends who wouldn’t be getting their own section of the pendant.
Watching your daughter bond with another girl is one of the sweetest things about having a growing child. The baby who was so dependent on you is almost gone, and in her place is this amazing kid, holding hands and laughing in a real relationship, but one without the complications she’ll have to navigate in the years that are already coming too fast. I see this every day with my daughter and her group of friends; some she’s known since I counted her age in months. They argue like siblings and apologize with the brutal sincerity of children.
Anna has asked so often for the necklace—this week with one friend, next week with another. She’s only five, and though mostly the charm is a sparkly little something to her, I do want her to understand its duller implications. “What if Jill and Tess got a necklace without you? How would you feel?” I keep things simple; I don’t mention the times during my own childhood I was the third friend—he one whose name didn’t make the shortlist. My classmates were rarely outright mean to me but I suffered these softer cruelties.
It’s just a cheap little trinket, I’ll hear from other parents. She’ll forget about it in a week, they’ll say. They’re right, both of these things will happen. But before I find myself untangling a knotted chain from her bedroom carpet or pulling her half of a tin charm from the depths of my washing machine, she’ll have left another girl quietly wondering why she wasn’t given the chance to misplace her own piece of the necklace.
Most of all, I want my daughter to understand empathy. That the way you wear your friendship for the world to see isn’t by splitting a necklace in two but by sharing your heart with many.