Some mornings, the shrieks escaping Mira's mouth as she spots one of her classmates startle me so much, I accidentally release my left foot from the clutch and the car jolts to a stall in the middle of the carpool line.
My daughter has just seen her friend Kayla, another 5-year-old she saw just the day before at school. Mira leaps in the air and runs up behind Kayla, who returns the same primal scream before flinging her arms around what appears to be her long-lost friend.
This scene repeats itself, over and over again, with each of Mira's friends. They cling to one another like Saran Wrap, only detangling themselves many minutes later, at their teacher's gentle urging. Their eyes are wild with enthusiasm for one another, taking copious mental notes of what the other friend is wearing in her hair, what books she is reading, or how she crosses her legs while sitting on the floor. Their relationships are obsessive, and loving, and whimsical, and silly, but serious and relevant in their own little 5-year old world.
The first few times I saw these almost barbaric greetings, which reminded me of my hardly sober sorority socials back in college, I was taken aback by the fact that any 5-year-old could feel so fiercely for another non-relative. What is it, I wondered, that two prekindergartners could possibly talk about in the three hours a day they roam the same classroom?
But when I reach far enough back in my memory file, I remember that I, too, had a best friend at five. One that made me giggle in that wild and unabashed way, one with whom I shared my innermost secrets about school and ghosts and good climbing trees.
Her name was Carol. She had long, stringy blond hair, and was a petite little thing with a wide smile. Carol had knobby, scabbed knees, and black toenails from her absolute refusal to wear shoes outside when the temperature was above freezing. I remember that she was smart and funny and daring. The two of us would find all kinds of ways to get in trouble. We pretended that car windshields were slides, and took turns careening down the front of each and every one of them in the apartment complex parking lot where we lived. We'd climb and jump down the sides of huge dirt piles in an area behind our neighborhood we'd nicknamed "The Mountains." We were mischievous. We took too many risks when our moms weren't looking, but we were loving life at five.
Carol and I fought a lot, too, and while I don't remember what the fights were about, I remember that at five, when I fought with Carol, it was as if my entire world had come crashing down. I felt sick in my gut until one of us slinked over to the other's house and apologized via sharing a favorite toy, or asking if the other could come out to play. Such was our friendship, fierce and passionate, joyous and rocky, at five years old.
I remember one night in particular, sitting at the table while my family ate a spaghetti dinner. I inhaled my food wholeheartedly and messily, and when the doorbell rang in the middle of the meal, I jumped up to answer it myself. When I opened the door, there stood my best friend. She was draped, just as I was, with a napkin around her neck. Her cheeks and mouth were stained and crusted with red pasta sauce, just as mine were, and in her hand, just as in mine, she held a fork perfect for noodle twirling. We laughed at the coincidence, and then promised we'd play when we'd both finished supper.
I remember now, looking back, how truly sincere and genuine, how loyal and zealous, how wide-eyed and eager, friendship is at the age of five. And I'm grateful for Mira's darling girlfriends, who are creating for her wonderful memories of her childhood, and don't even know it.
Anjali Enjeti-Sydow is a suburban Philadelphia mother of two girls who spends time fantasizing about re-enrolling herself in Kindergarten.