"Is that her boyfriend?" the stranger asked, winking.
I looked at my ten-year-old daughter and her best friend standing next to me in the grocery store.
"No, he's just her friend," I replied, damping down my exasperation.
My daughter's best friend is a boy. They are fourth graders who are not dating nor thinking about dating. They are best friends who just happen to be the opposite gender. My daughter and her best friend see friendship, not gender, and they have since their relationship started.
When she was six years old, my daughter cemented her relationship with her male best friend.
It happened by chance when I reached out to an acquaintance while my husband was out of town. I had to take my oldest child to the emergency room for a baseball injury and I desperately needed someone with a child the same age to watch my daughter.
My daughter had known this little boy her whole life. His mom and I had been pregnant at the same time and the kids had attended a Sunday School class together since they were three. Still, they had never had a play date together.
When I arrived three hours later to pick her up, I had to pry her away from him. They had had an amazing time.
And so it began.
Over the last four years, the kids have been inseparable. Their standing play dates on Sunday afternoons are one of their favorite parts of the week.
My daughter and her best friend create imaginative worlds with stuffed animals. The kids study books on the abyss and bioluminescent creatures. They wrestle each other, laughing and giggling, on the living room floor.
Their temperaments are similar, their attention spans compatible, and their silliness on point.
Yet, these are not the attributes that pique people's interest when I mention my daughter's best friend. Usually, I get asked, even in jest, about their romance. It is as if people cannot think about males and females in a platonic relationship, even children.
When the dating jokes annoy my daughter or me, I draw on noteworthy opposite gender relationships from literature to reinforce that being best friends with a boy is normal.
Indeed, there are best friends like Beezus and Henry from the Ramona books, Judy Moody and Rocky from the Judy Moody books, Jo and Laurie from "Little Women,"Harriet and Sport from "Harriet the Spy," and Harry, Ron and Hermione from Harry Potter.Plus, there are family movies that celebrate boy-girl friendships.
The message these books and movies send, and that I hope to reinforce, is what my daughter already knows: boys and girls can be great friends.
I do wonder what middle school and the teen years will bring to their friendship. Puberty will change their bodies and how they think about the opposite sex. They may start to care what their peers think of their pairing. It makes me sad that these forces could dull the brightness of their friendship.
Still, I am grateful for the strength of their bond and hopeful that, regardless of their gender, they can weather the changes coming their way.
After all, I connect with my childhood best friends on social media and appreciate the unspoken bond we share. There is a comfort and strength from knowing someone your whole life and genuinely liking that person. I hope my daughter and her best friend, who just happens to be a boy, will have that for the rest of their lives.