I wish time could stand still for him. I wish friendships could always be based on nothing more than a shared love of throwing sand around, or the Gruffalo. I wish friendships could always bring laughter and cuddles and shared snacks and smiling faces.
Between toddlers, friendship is about exploring the world together: what happens when I prod your eye like this? What happens when we throw the ball like that? There is no tally kept on who owes who the most raisins, or rice cakes shared. There are no lasting recriminations when tears are shed or someone needs their mummy.
So how can I possibly prepare such youthful innocence for the world of grown-up friendships? To explain to him that sometimes friendships will bring hurt and anger and even loneliness. There are lessons that he will need to learn, when it comes to friends and friendships.
The funny thing is, the more I've thought about these lessons, the more I've realised: it's us grown ups who should be taking the lessons of friendship from toddlers!
1. Real friends accept you for who you are, warts and all.
Toddlers don't care if you are short or tall, skinny or plump. They don't care what colour your hair is or when you last had it cut. They don't care if you are ill, or feeling sad. They will play with anyone, as long as that person has breath in their lungs.
But son, this won't always be the case. One day people will start to judge you on your appearance, your nationality, your background. One day, your playmate's mummy might not invite the whole class to the birthday party. They will expect you to be friends with people just like you - and will look twice at "odd" pairings. So always remember your youthful acceptance of everyone, as many grown ups miss out on some wonderful friendships by ignoring people who don't look, sound or behave exactly as they do.
2. Real friends never expect anything in return.
Toddlers are essentially kind beings, despite not always knowing how to share. Toddlers don't keep careful records on who owns what and which toys are whose. Grown ups are keen to teach you how to share, but soon this enthusiasm wanes, to be replaced with a careful guarding of what's mine is mine. Finders, keepers. An eye for an eye.
Grown ups don't realise that property rights are an artificial construct, created by society, to impose rules and order. This is fine, we must accept a few rules and order in life. But do be generous with your friends. Give willingly, never expecting anything in return. Don't keep tabs on your friendships, your dinner party invitations, and especially not your time. Helping others in need is it's own reward, because as every toddler is taught - it's nice to share.
3. Real friends will persist, even when you say you're "fine".
Toddlers wear their hearts on their sleeves. It is easy to tell who is sad, who is angry, and who is distressed. And this translates into a beautiful level of empathy. When one kicks off a tantrum, it is more than likely that you will join in, in solidarity.
Grown ups frown on public displays of emotion. They work very hard to maintain a facade of normality, of success, of stability, of achievement. So it is never easy to tell who may need help, or a friendly ear. Never believe anyone who says they are "fine", if they are not looking you directly in the eye. Be persistent. The building of facades is infectious, but if one crumbles then others will too. So never be afraid to tell someone how you really are. They might just open up to you.
4. Friends never keep score.
Toddlers haven't learned yet how to be competitive. They might soon learn to kick a football, but they don't yet choose sides. They don't recognise winners and losers, better and worst. Life is a game. They are just having fun.
Grown ups, in contrast, live in a constant state of comparison and relative success. They work hard to earn more, know more, and to be "the best". Some economists even say that people can have all the material wealth they will ever need - but if the Jones next door have just a little bit more, they will never be happy. This is happiness, as prescribed by Capitalists. It's not the form of happiness preached by wise men. You will get dragged into the Rat Race, I'm sure you will, but always stop a while to remember what's really important: being kind, having fun, and sharing joy.
5. Sometimes the best friends you can ever have are closer than you think.
Toddlers are usually best friends with mummy, daddy, and (in your case) the family cat. There is no one else who can make you laugh as loud as daddy. There is no one else who will play with you for as long as Cat does. There is no one else (I like to think!) that you want to turn to when you've bumped your head.
Grown ups like to distance themselves from their families, as soon as the first signs of puberty hit them. They ignore their parents and fight with their siblings. They do everything they can to escape family ties and forge ahead with their own lives. But, often, they will come to realise that their family members were the best friends they were looking for all along. Not everyone is lucky enough to have all their family around them. So cherish these friendships for as long as you can.
I'm linking this up to three different linkys this week:
As well as the wonderful PoCoLo blog party over at vevivos.com.
Thanks for reading!