“Madelyn…” I start, my face serious.
Madelyn looks up at me with question marks in her eyes. The blue orbiting her pupils matches the color of her Elsa dress. It’s a Saturday morning, and her family—my friends—are downstairs.
My guided tour of a 3-year-old’s bedroom is nearly complete. She’s already shown me the rainbow-covered comforter, the pink pop-up tent packed with coloring books, the pictures hanging on lemon meringue walls.
Now we reached the tour highlight: The Closet.
“What is your FAVORITE dress?” I ask.
“That’s a great question,” she determines, her response soaked in encouragement. The sheer adultness of her affirmation nearly knocks me off my feet.
Madelyn’s hands—half my size—grab hold of the closet’s white double doors. She yanks them open. We stand in front of her dress collection: all pinks and florals and bright and happy.
She wraps her arms around the dress in front: a light lime green number with neon cartoonish flowers.
“This one!” she exclaims. “I just love my dresses so, so much!” Joy spread across her face as she closes her eyes, bringing the cotton close and breathing it in.
“I love that dress too,” I agree. “It’s beautiful.”
"Come on!” she gallops. “Let’s go downstairs and SING!”
My cheeks hurt from smiling. Kids do that sometimes. They inspire you to shove away your adultness. They help you to forget to remember for a while.
I watch Madelyn go downstairs. That’s when it hits me.
Here’s this little human being—this sweet, spunky girl with opinions and preferences and thoughts—and yet I remember hearing about her before her toes had even touched this earth.
Madelyn’s parents, Mike and Laura, are two of my best friends. Now they are a mom and dad to two sweet girls. We are the adults in the room. How did that happen? I listen for the beating of time’s wings as it flies over our heads.
When I first met Laura, we were college juniors interning at the same corporation. Laura had a penchant for pencil skirts and Express shirts. I had a too-short haircut that I could never figure out how to style. We couldn’t legally drink, we were too loud for our own good, and we tried our best to masquerade around the maze of cubicles and corporate jargon.
We had no idea what we were doing.
“You want to come to my house?” Laura asked me during Week 1 of our internship. “I don’t live far.”
There were no babies, or marriages, or dogs, or houses. There was just me, and Laura, and Full House on the TV during our lunch hour.
Laura introduced me to her boyfriend Mike, who worked at the baseball stadium in town. Later that summer, Laura called me to tell me Mike was no longer her boyfriend. He had gotten down on one knee on a dock in Lake City. I stood in their wedding the next fall.
Twelve years later, she’s still got Mike. And she’s still got me.
Funny how that works. You know. Friendship.
With dating, you ask yourself the deep questions early on. Could I see myself with this person? Could they meet my friends? Could I introduce them to my dad?
With friends, it’s the opposite. It’s often a casual start that begins over the simplest of things. You’re colleagues, or classmates, or roommates, or teammates.
Then time goes by. The strands of life wrap around each other, interweaving into a braid that builds a bond.
A dress, a class, a beer, a boy turns into a house, a career, a wedding.
A life, a love, a loss.
A diagnosis, a disease, a death.
Inside jokes and outward appearances.
Target runs and long walks.
Break-ups, make-ups, check-ins, take-out.
Laughing and crying and hugging and high fiving and celebrating and hurting and all of it…
All of it.
You’re sharing your lives. Together. Because you’re friends. And that’s how this thing works, when it’s at its best. They say marriage is growing old together. But so is friendship.
There is no formal ceremony. No signed contract. No swapping of names. No one gets down on bended knee to propose. There’s no need. At the core, friendship centers on action. Showing up in a billion big and small ways that knit together to create a tapestry of trust.
When Laura and I watched DJ Tanner and Kimmy Gibbler while munching on chips and salsa in 2008, did I picture talking to her 3-year-old in 2020 about her favorite dresses in her closet?
No. No, I did not.
But that’s the beauty of friendship. You grow up together: whether that's from the alphabet carpet to adulthood or college student to parenthood or a million other transitions and transformations along the way. Seedlings of friendship turn into mighty oaks where you bend and sway together in the storms. There’s something special about shared history. Someone who’s roots are tangled with yours. It’s a unique type of metamorphosis: you’re both caterpillars that cover yourselves in cocoons. Then you grow wings. You watch yourselves fly, fall, and fly again. Over and over and over. Season after season. Changing, growing, morphing, flying, falling.
To be friends is its own type of commitment. The vows aren't spoken, but the actions are there. To have and to hold. In sickness and in health. It’s a blessing and a privilege: To grow up and not apart.
I go downstairs. I see Laura holding their newborn, Lydia. I hear Mike singing Frozen songs with Madelyn. This is a new season of our friendship. I soak it all in before I step into the living room, grab Madelyn’s hands and twirl.