Recently our family of four was together when an old friend stopped by.

Reunions with old friends can be awkward. Sometimes, after a long absence, you wonder if what knit you together long ago is still there. You wonder if you’ve outgrown each other.

If you’re lucky, seeing an old friend feels like the most natural thing in the world, and you realize that you can still laugh together the same way, that there’s been a forgotten reservoir of affection dwelling within you that surges up on contact with the old friend.

When our friend appeared, the first moments seemed like our time together might end in awkward disappointment. Then, before you know it, we were all laughing together.

Here’s our old friend, Butterfly:

butterfly cropped

Butterfly became M’s particular friend when she was a toddler. I have no recollection whatsoever who brought Butterfly into our lives, which is too bad, because I’d thank that person.

I must avoid pronouns for Butterfly because Butterfly isn’t comfortable with the gender binary. Depending on the conversation and the situation, she might identify as mostly feminine or he might identify as mostly masculine, and it doesn’t matter, really, because Butterfly is always so perfectly Butterfly.

When Butterfly came out to play the other day, we all ended up laughing. Butterfly is wonderfully naughty and weirdly charming. Really, I think every toddler deserves a friend like Butterfly. Here are a few reasons why.

My kids loved bossing Butterfly around. Butterfly gets into all sorts of trouble, which is terrifically entertaining. For a little kid who is told when to eat and when to go to the potty and what to wear and what they’ll be doing all day, there is nothing so satisfying as being the authority over someone else. Butterfly’s particular weakness is Cheerios. In the olden days, one of my girls would use that newly-acquired pincer grasp skill to feed Butterfly one Cheerio at a time, and Butterfly was deeply appreciative. But occasionally Butterfly would lose control and plunge headfirst into the Cheerio box. Someone would have to yank Butterfly out of the box and brush the oats dust off of Butterfly’s antennae.

Butterfly became an accidental symbol of unconditional love. Every time Butterfly was yanked out of a Cheerios box, Butterfly would apologize and promise to do better. Butterfly would try, try, try not to completely lose it over the Cheerios. But then Butterfly would lose it again. Sometimes Butterfly would, I don’t know, steal a cute hat right off your head. Often, Butterfly required near-endless correction. But Butterfly would apologize and be forgiven. Butterfly tried to do better, and whether or not Butterfly succeeded, we all loved Butterfly.

Butterfly helped teach our kids about consent. You see, Butterfly likes to tickle. Along with my children, I am very ticklish. Sometimes Butterfly would try to tickle me and I would say, “No, Butterfly, don’t tickle me!” And even though Butterfly often kept going when it came to eating Cheerios, Butterfly would always stop tickling right away. Butterfly might snuggle, kiss, or beg for cuddles from one of my girls, but they were in charge. Sometimes they’d say, “Don’t tickle me!” and Butterfly would freeze, and then they’d giggle and say, “Okay. . . you can tickle this. . . one. . . foot!” Butterfly would attack that foot until the owner of said foot would yell, “No, Butterfly, stop!” And Butterfly would freeze, sometimes panting a little, because Butterfly understood that the girls are in charge of their own bodies.

Butterfly was a confidante. This was perhaps Butterfly’s most surprising role. Occasionally, my strong-willed little M would get so angry with me that she’d refuse to speak to me. I wish I could remember what my particular offenses were, but they were probably the sort of offenses that many mothers commit: cutting toast into the wrong shape, insisting on clothes at the grocery store, refusing a third cup of juice, sending her back to wash hands and flush the toilet. Whatever. The point is, when M refused to speak to Mommy, once in a while, she’d talk to Butterfly instead. Even if Mommy was nearby (strangely, Mommy or Daddy was always nearby when Butterfly was active), M would protest Mommy’s injustices to Butterfly and even listen when Butterfly would gently try to broker a peace. It was extraordinary for me to be able to eavesdrop on this conversation, and I certainly appreciated Butterfly’s subtle peacemaking abilities.

When I first met Butterfly, honestly? I thought: weird-looking. But I’m so glad that we got beyond that first impression. Butterfly has been such a wonderful friend to our family. I’d forgotten how much I missed Butterfly, and I was glad that we all got together again.

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