Yesterday, my daughter turned 5. My mother and I attended her “birthday circle” at school. A birthday circle involves the child walking around the circle area as one of the teachers recites a few facts about each year of the child’s life.
At the center of the circle is a single lit candle. When the child is done with her rotations, she is invited to make a wish and blow out the candle. It’s what you would imagine a witch initiation to involve, except it involves small people who cry about their spot in line.
After five to six attempts at blowing out the candle, my daughter finally succeeded in extinguishing the flame. She turned and walked to me. She wrapped her arms around my head, and brought my ear close to her lips. She whispered the wish she had just made.
“I wish for my friends,” she breathed.
“I wish for my friends.” A wish that is less sentence, more clause. An incomplete thought. A fragment insinuating an ellipsis, or a comma
“I wish for my friends.”
When she first shared her secret, I half-waited for her to finish the thought, to explain what she wished for her friends. Help deciding between Ariel or Belle? An eternally secure pink bow like Hello Kitty’s? A lunch composed of items that could be opened without adult assistance?
She backed away from me to reveal a proud smile, and I realized there was nothing more to come. Her statement had ended. What I thought was an extended intermission was, in fact, the curtain call.
That set me worrying. I worried that we had overdone it with the Dr. Seuss: that I had allowed my child to believe a sentence wasn’t a sentence unless it was whimsical or rhyming. Then, I worried that she was trying to tell me she had vividly present imaginary friends and/or schizophrenia: that a talking rabbit named Mr. Fluffy Ears or a private investigator partial to aviator glasses named Ermina had not made it to the birthday circle, and my daughter was summoning them into our midst. Finally, I worried that during her walk from the center of the circle to my perch at its outer ring, we’d been sucked into some Star Trekkian/J.J. Abrams vortex and the 22 preschoolers surrounding us had disappeared: that my daughter had sensed the pending vortex and was trying to stop the morning from becoming a Tom Cruise movie.
A couple of blinks revealed that the world was as we’d left it seconds before. The ceremony had come to an end, and now it was time for her to join her still-present classmates for a little bead counting or name writing. I gave her a big kiss, a big wave, and a big thumbs up, in case Ermina was hot on the perp’s trail and just needed a final confidence boost.
As I drove to work, I let go of my grammarian reflexes and wandering worries. I started to appreciate my daughter’s wish for what it was: a wish for her friends.
Sure, it was a mad-libbish, fill-in-the-blank wish. But its adaptability took on a generous hue, a warmth, as I turned it over. With five little words, it was a wish that managed to spread its arms wide, to bring loved ones into a shared embrace while simultaneously sending joy and cheer out, out and still further out. Rippling waves of good tidings that were released in the knowledge that the positivity would find its way, in some form, back to the source.
To wish for our friends is to extend to them the superlatives we control and those we witness in the world. To wish for our friends is to hope that they are happy and fulfilled. To wish for our friends is to pass the goodness on so that we can share in it together. To wish for our friends is to wish for ourselves.
We send best wishes, we wish each other well, we wish upon stars. While my five-year-old most surely did not conceptualize her birthday wish as a profound statement on the nature of friendship, I am choosing to embrace it as such.
I wish for my friends. I wish for you.
My daughter is my friend. I wish for my daughter.