“There were dancing gingerbread men”

I had expected it to be a little longer before Sophie told me, “I’m going to be home late. You might be asleep.” Four-and-a-half years old seems young to be uttering that sentence. But it was true.

It’s because our 14-year-old neighbor had asked if she could take Sophie to Disneyland (along with her 16-year-old friend).

I said yes. I don’t like amusement parks myself, and I’m especially not fond of the way Disney colonizes children’s imaginations — but I don’t believe in banning anything. We do live about an hour from Anaheim. I didn’t want Soph to be the last in her class to visit those Princesses. I liked the idea that Soph would get to see Disneyland with an expert friend. I liked the idea that Soph would get to go without me actually having to go, too.

I believe that our fabulous neighbors are far more normal than I am. It seems like a good idea to expose Soph to normalcy.

But when I told this to my mom friends, they all gasped. I let Soph go alone with a young teenager, fairly far from home, to the most crowded place imaginable? “What could go wrong?” I asked, and they all gave me a look, then said, “Do you really want an answer?”

So I wrote my phone number on an index card and made Sophie put it in her pocket, in case of emergency. I know we’re not exactly living in the days of Paddington Bear, but this still seemed like a good precaution.

My teenage neighbor took her own precautions. She mapped out the route they would take through the park, planned how to avoid the crowds, supplied me with a packing list (mittens for the evening, a pull-up diaper for the car-drive home: this 14-year-old thought of everything), and requested to borrow a camera so that she could document Soph’s wonderment so I wouldn’t entirely miss out.

But the moment that made me most adore this neighbor was when she arrived to pick up Soph and I reminded Soph to go use the bathroom before the long car-ride. Soph hates to be told to use the bathroom. But our neighbor cheerfully said, “I’ll go with you,” cleverly circumventing all whining. They emerged a few minutes later, Soph ready for the trip, hands washed more thoroughly than usual, and proudly sporting a fluorescent pink streak in her hair. Yes, we keep bright-pink hairspray in our bathroom — but it hadn’t occurred to me to use it on a regular basis. That’s why my neighbor is a magical friend to Sophie. That’s why I encourage this friendship.

“Does she have our phone numbers programmed into her cell-phone?” Ben asked.

“I don’t know, but she dyed Sophie’s hair pink,” I told him. “They’re both so delighted. It’s going to be fine.”

And it was.

My neighbors’ mother reported that, on the late-night drive home, Soph woke up only briefly to say, breathlessly, “There were dancing gingerbread men!”


One response to ““There were dancing gingerbread men”

  1. Dinorah

    THAT is an awesome adventure! Way to go Mom! The only thing I would have done differently is written our phone number on her shoulder with a sharpie! It’s an extreme tactic but I don’t have to worry that she’ll lose the piece of paper with number on it! How did these Sof–a-loafs get so big so soon?

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