On Leaving First Friends
BY CATE STERN, GUEST CONTRIBUTOR
"Mommy, who was your first friend?"
My four-year-old's question slowed the pace of my dinner preparations, grinding them to a halt as I realized I didn't have a solid answer. I'm sure I had friends in my toddler years. I just couldn't quite remember anyone before Louis, my next-door neighbor.
We were almost six years old when we met; my family had just moved from one suburb to another. We used to play HORSE in his driveway and he let me feed his lizards and turtles. What happened before then? Your guess is as good as mine. So I responded, "My first friend's name was Louis." I went back to chopping vegetables for our soup and hoped my answer would satisfy my youngest daughter's curiosity.
I had a sense of why she was asking. We had been talking a lot about first friends, old friends and new friends lately, because we will be moving this summer. And not thirty minutes away or to the next town; my husband and I are moving our family from New Jersey to North Carolina, over six hundred miles south.
We've been singing the song—”make new friends but keep the old”—and talking about all the positive points—like a backyard—but I know these are distractions from the glaring truth: We are moving far away, and my daughter is looking to me for reassurance that the foundations of her foray into friendship will not crumble. Or less dramatically, she wants to confirm she will be OK now that everything's changing.
According to the US Census Bureau, the average American will move 11.7 times during a lifetime. Our relocation this summer will make sixteen moves since I was born. Change is certainly something to rely on. But that doesn't necessarily make it easy.
I still remember breaking down in tears after leaving a friend’s house for the last time before college. I can feel the anxiety of our departure from Washington, DC to New Jersey, as I left the city where I went to graduate school and held my first job as an attorney.
And now, although I’m excited for this next adventure, I’m reflecting on leaving my first parent friends and how my daughters will be saying goodbye to friends they made as infants. Without grandparents and cousins nearby, these friends are more like family to us, and I can grow misty-eyed at a mental montage of the experiences we've shared. Playground mornings, early dinners at the farmer’s market after swim class, Friday pizza parties, birthday celebrations, the school conversations—these routine, sometimes even banal moments, have added up to six years of serious facetime.
I can't promise my girls things will be the same after our move—of course, they will be different. (Those southern accents!) And I can't predict the viability of these first friendships in the future. (Louis? Are you out there?) But I can assure them they will be more than fine because they've been well prepared. Even if they cannot remember on a granular level, these first relationships have taught them valuable lessons—that they are worthy of good friends, that they can resolve disagreements, that a community can lift them up. My girls can be confident in their new neighborhoods, playgrounds and classrooms, because of the comradery, love, and yes, sometimes drama, they have been blessed with during the Jersey years. The same stands for me and the friends who have grown to be family.
And if all else fails, we get a puppy.
If you’ve moved with communities and children at play, how’d your transition go? Any practices you instilled in your family before or after to make it more comfortable for all?
Cate Stern is a mother of two girls and an attorney. She’s looking forward to relocating to Charlotte, North Carolina, this summer.