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!”