Last week my daughter found out her best friend was moving away. My husband and I stood at the bus stop waiting for her to come home from school, and as the neighborhood children spilled off the bus, one of them announced, “We’re moving to Wyoming in two weeks!” It was the older sister of Izzy’s best friend, and I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. I held tightly to my daughter’s hand as we walked home, and she whispered, “I almost cried today at school.” “Did Sarah tell you on the bus ride to school?” I asked gently.”Oh, honey, I’m so sorry.”
I spent the rest of the evening fighting tears, sometimes unsuccessfully, as I imagined how this move would change our lives. Sarah and her siblings lived just a few doors down on our cul-de-sac, and they were a staple in our daily lives. When we moved to the neighborhood two years ago, I felt somewhat trepidatious about the idea of the children bouncing back in forth to each other’s homes. On our old block, there were no other children, and we had no experience with the casual coming and going of nearby friends. It was just so “1980s,” in that it evoked memories of the freedom I experienced as a child; to be honest, I didn’t think it would ever be possible for my own children to enjoy similar friendships marked by the freedom that comes from close-by playmates.
Earlier this summer, Izzy and Sarah solidified their blossoming friendship by playing together nearly every day. When my daughter returned home from a day at camp, she would dash into the house, grab a snack, and then call, “I’m going to Sarah’s house!” I had long ago overcome my discomfort with this independence, and I often barely looked up from whatever I was doing to acknowledge she was leaving.
Similarly, Sarah and her sister were often at our doorstep first thing on a weekend morning, and the kids often spent hours playing together- sometimes the better part of an entire day. They would flit back and forth between the two homes; sometimes we fed them lunch, and sometimes Izzy ate at Sarah’s house. They shared the milestone of the first sleepover together, and quickly became “best friends.”
I was devastated by Izzy’s reaction to the news; she sobbed inconsolably, lamenting, “I thought we had found the perfect house! I thought this was finally the perfect neighborhood.” All I could do was hold her tight and cry along with her, trying to soothe her without dismissing her very real, raw feelings. There were several other families on our street, but their children were just far enough apart in age from my daughter to make regular playtime not appealing.
I knew there was no denying the fact that this family’s move would irrevocably impact the dynamic of our block. The likelihood of another family with girls my daughter’s age moving in was not comforting.
It seemed grandiose, but I wondered if Sarah’s move would signal a clear turning point in our lives; what if there was never another family with built-in playmates to live on this street? What if these two years would be the only time in my children’s lives that they had friends to play with in the free, independent way I enjoyed as a child? These semi-omniscient musings seemed a bit theatrical, but I was worried that it was the truth. It felt like we would be sad about it forever.
I moved frequently as a child, and well into adulthood I have been sensitive about my friendship history and lack of lifelong comrades. I have always been envious of my friends who remain close with the pals they grew up with. Every time I moved, I stayed in contact with a few special friends, but as the tide continued to turn, we always lost touch. Sometimes it took two separate moves before the transition was complete–my move at age 13 and then leaving for college, or even my out of state internship followed by my move to Colorado– but I always seemed to shed my friends as I outgrew my old skin. It made me feel sad, and somehow self-conscious. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I hang onto friends? I have finally managed to maintain a close bond with three of my college friends. After a few post-adolescent years while we fumbled into our adult lives, we have worked hard to stay in contact.
I wanted my daughters to have the history of closeness with the friends they grew up with. I never had neighborhood friends move away when I was a child, because I was always the one moving. I know it is a reality that many children experience, but I wanted to spare my girls that sense of loss. The hours I spent with the neighborhood children when I was in elementary school, the memories we shared of various wild adventures, shaped me in unmistakeable ways. But I am very aware of the transient nature of childhood friendships, and the fragility of these first social bonds.
When I moved out of state just before 6th grade, I managed to find nearby friends my own age in my new neighborhood, and once again basked in the childhood high of freedom, walking back and forth between our houses in the twilight hours. Our final family move, weeks before my 13th birthday, landed us in a neighborhood filled primarily with families who had babies and toddlers. This didn’t faze me, and I instead focused my efforts on cornering the market on baby-sitting services. I was old enough to walk farther to friends’ homes, and I didn’t feel that I was missing out. But for seven sweet years, I belonged to a pack of kids who roamed the streets comfortably, never lacking for playmates and dodging the daily boredom that I worry my children may succumb to.
It is my hope that, in spite of our neighbors moving away, we will put down roots in this community, and my girls will still find friends with whom to share their formative years. But I still find myself questioning, “Will Sarah’s leaving scar my daughter for life? Will things ever be the same?”
Did your family move away when you were a child? Did you lose a best friend, or has your child lost a best friend to a move? How did you cope?