Friendly Bargaining

MY daughter Hallie met her friend Kaya six years ago, just after they'd both turned 1. Kaya had a cap of hair that resembled sparrow fluff. My daughter's strawberry blonde hair grew straight out from her scalp, giving an appearance of constant shocked surprise.

Our first time together, Kaya's mother and I walked the winter beach in Oregon. The girls bounced in backpacks, while we began to build a friendship that would grow over the coming years into something like an extended family.

Circumstance has introduced us to many people we now consider friends. A few are like pieces of us that have been missing - kindred spirits. With these friends, we don't need to be together in order for the friendship to sustain us.

Hallie and Kaya have been apart more than they've been together over the years. Kaya's father works in Africa. During a few of these past years, Kaya has been just a letter in the mail or a picture on the refrigerator. But when she comes back, she and Hallie roll down our grassy hill together like puppies.

Unalike in many ways, they remain connected by an elusive, fundamental tie. Kaya loves ballet, the color pink, and was an angel last Halloween. Hallie enjoys soccer, sweatpants, and dressed as Bill Clinton in October. Hallie isn't drawn to dolls; Kaya loves them. While Hallie could spend afternoons digging through mud, Kaya would rather roller skate.

Within their differences, they bargain.

"I'll go outside if you roller skate," Kaya will say.

"I'll go outside and roller skate, if you'll do cartwheels afterward," Hallie says, and on and on in the constant compromise of childhood. I watch and try to relearn the art, because it is one that single-minded adults might benefit from.

The girls seem to accept and appreciate their differences, instead of being separated by them. They find common ground for their time together. They read to each other in the car. They leap off sand dunes and see how far they can slither. They eat. Often they'll sustain a quiet murmur and talk the way friends do as they help each other figure out a confusing and complex world.

THEY don't expect too much from each other. They seem to sense that not all needs are met in one person. I shudder at all the assumptions I've collected about friends and relatives over the years. It makes me want to shed all those old expectations like a worn-out skin.

Though the girls disagree and negotiate, I've never seen them attack each other in the fundamental places where there isn't much room for bargaining. They love to be together, yet don't show traces of possessiveness. In fact, they happily wind their way into the other friendships they both have.

Last Halloween, I was fortunate enough to sit between Bill Clinton and the angel. They were already preparing for next year. Kaya leaned forward and said to Hallie, "I'd tell you what I'm going to be next year, but you'd laugh."

Hallie, necktie straight and jacket properly buttoned, said, "No, Kaya," and added the special guarantee, "honest."

"A bride."

Hallie pondered this for a moment, "That's neat, Kaya. I know what I'm going to be, too."


Hallie wound the string of her balloon around her finger. "A pile of sand."

"Cool," said Kaya. They finished their cookies and hopped off the couch, now interested in apple bobbing.

To seek out friends based only on common ground would eliminate an opportunity to find kindred spirits who may offer new, unique experiences. It's good to share activities, yet my children remind me of the importance of exploring new ways to be in the world, ways to connect in spite of and because of difference. Kaya and Hallie share a companionship that will change their lives whether they go on to be Bill Clintons or angels - whether they end up as brides or piles of sand. Their relationship will creat e the stories they will tell time and time again when they speak of what it was like to be young and learning about life, love, and friendship.

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