One Saturday night as I knelt in front of my daughter Eleanor and helped her pull Hello Kitty pajamas over her head, she wondered, “Do you think my friend Eleanor will be at church tomorrow?” Now, in our little dot on the map of the world, we don’t meet many Eleanors. My mind began scrambling for what she could be talking about, convinced this was a situation where her 3-year-oldness misinterprets something by a few degrees—like when mayonnaise was “mermaise” and her sister’s friend Penelope was “Centipede.” I was still working through a response when she patted her head and said, “You know, my friend with the puffy hair?” And suddenly I remembered.
A couple months earlier at our Christmas Eve service we had seen a lady sitting on a bench in the foyer. She leaned her hand on a cane and tilted her head in happiness as her family stood talking with friends nearby. As we walked past, her face was eye-level with Eleanor, and she flashed a dancing smile. It led to a conversation where we discovered her name was also Eleanor.
“Oh right. Eleanor with white puffy hair who was sitting on the bench in the foyer?”
Her little blond head nodded. “Let’s look for her tomorrow.”
Later as I curled up in my bed and processed over the day—the article about toxins hiding in playgrounds, whether my children would grow up to be adults who don’t eat vegetables, how long it had been since I changed the sheets on the top of the bunk bed—my eyes softened as I remembered Eleanor talking about her friend. Months ago as we stood talking together, I had focused on the differences between the two Eleanors and subconsciously dismissed their connection. Sometimes my 37-year-oldness leads me to misinterpret and miss things my 3-year-old sees with startling clarity.
That Christmas Eve service with Eleanor was almost two years ago. Every Sunday we walk past her bench. She greets my little Eleanor with a hug and bright smile. She holds the little hand that’s lost almost all its baby chubbiness between her two slender, bumpy hands. We’ve discovered that those hands nimbly baked dozens of cookies every Christmas. They cuddled babies and grandbabies and great-grandbabies. Her kind voice lilts and wavers as she asks about my Eleanor’s brother and sister by name and asks a question about her week.
As the two Eleanors talk, I’m reminded to look beyond differences and search out friendship. And I’m grateful for the sweet investment into my daughter from a puffy-haired friend.