- Susie Csorsz Brown
‘Tis the season again: the season of mass exodus from post. ‘Tis the season for perfecting your spin on saying sayonara. ‘Tis the season for helping your kids learn what it means to say ‘goodbye’ to a friend, and to deal with the aftermath of them then realizing what it REALLY means: that they will not be seeing their friend in the morning. Or next week. Or next school year. It is not our turn to move (again) this year, but that will come again soon enough. We are nomads, right? We have chosen this lifestyle; that does not make this any easier, though. Moving is perhaps hard to deal with but fairly easy to understand as an adult; this is so much harder as a child.
As adults, saying goodbye can be really challenging. One of the best parts of the Foreign Service -- meeting new and amazing people who have arrived to your post -- becomes one of the most unpleasant as those amazing people – who have become your good friends – depart post to move on to their onward assignment, leaving you behind. Except they are not really; it is not YOU in particular they are leaving. They move, just like you will too soon enough because, I repeat, this is the lifestyle we have chosen. Still, it can be hard to deal with. Oh, the pain! The anguish! I am not mocking you: it truly is so hard to say goodbye. People who have touched our lives, and touched our hearts, made us laugh, held our hand, just been there for and with us, are not going to be there every day as we have become accustomed. I really feel that it really does help knowing that Disney was on to something, and it really IS a small world, after all. But it is still a larger THING than we would like, and Arlington, Manila, Budapest or Gabarone are indeed a long way from Kampala. Sure, having friends in far places means having favorite people to visit and places to stay, but with air travel costing nearly an arm and a leg for each trip, it can be hard to make such trips a reality. Especially for a family of five. Still, we meet these amazing people, we form friendships, and we live with the knowledge that we will likely see our friends again when they or we leave for points beyond. We are big people, we get this. It is hard, but we get it.
Little people, though, do not have the same mastery of the situation. During my tour of duty as a parent, I have had to help my kids say goodbye to friends, to aunts and uncles and cousins, to grandma and grandpa, to their dad for a year for a stint in Afghanistan, to homes and, maybe even harder, to pets who have passed. No goodbye is ever easy, and some kids deal with it much better than others. Same goes for adults, so this really isn’t a surprise. What is a surprise, though, is how quickly kids develop their toolkit that will get them through. Some develop a tough prickly outer shell, some do more ‘surface’ friendships rather than investing themselves emotionally, and others just throw themselves in to one or two big-deal friendships, and get then get flattened when moving time comes.
And that’s the thing, isn’t it? Moving time will come. No matter how much we hate moving, or hate leaving our friends, it is inevitable that it is going to happen, as long as we stay in this lifestyle. Every year, we can count on the rains coming, we can count of some sort of regular-but-completely-unplanned traffic issue, and we can count on having to say goodbye to our friends (probably not in that order, but I guess it depends on where in the world you are currently calling 'home').
Two of my kids are especially hard hit by the good-byes this spring: two of their good buddies are leaving for new homes. This is not anything new; every year, the boys have had any number of friends leaving. One year, my eldest had had 3 out of 4 of his best buddies leaving, and the other his ‘very best friend in the whole wide world’ headed to the other side of the planet. The youngest has the easiest time making friends, but still feels the have-to-say-goodbye pinch. This year? We've already had some hard goodbye moments as the early departures started. To each it is hard, especially when there is no real grasp on what it means to say goodbye to someone for forever. Like for always. Now my boys are to the age where they all fully understand what these goodbyes mean. They get that this is more than just not seeing their buddies in school next week.
Each year, this happens. Does it get easier? It does, in the sense that they are growing and starting to realize what a goodbye means, and they are starting to realize that we see people again pretty regularly. They are starting to develop their tech skills, too, so can stay in touch via email and other platforms (as an aside, have you ever read some of these emails? 10 year old boys have a very comical sense of what is an important detail to pass on, and there is generally a lot of emoji usage.) Goodbye is not really goodbye but ‘see you later’. This all helps.
What else can we do to help our kids deal with these goodbyes?
1. Let your kids spend extra time with their soon-to-depart buddy. Extra time together is not going to make it all better, but at least they get a few extra hours of quality time. We had a ‘say hello to summertime’ get-together with the kids’ favorite friends before leaving for our last post. We brought popsicles and squirt guns, and the kids all ran until they (almost literally) dropped. Sharing a fun memory with friends is a great way to say goodbye. We took pics, and sent them via email to parents to share with their kids, too. A mom of one of my youngest’s friends is an amazing photographer, and she gave us prints of pics of the boys together. What a treasure! We have hosted goodbye sleepovers, we have had epic nerf battles as a way to make one last afternoon together truly memorable … it really is just about helping them to build memories.
2. Let kids stay in touch. Email or letter writing is a great way to stay in touch… and practice writing skills! I try to give my kids privacy in their notes, plus I think helping our younger generations learn the beauty of sending and receiving an actual piece of mail is not such a bad thing. OIder kids would obviously embrace the use of social media and email to keep in touch with friends from other posts and schools. We do this, right? We Facebook with our adult friends so why would kids be any different? (This is probably not the time to open the 'proper age to open a gmail account' can of worms...) Bottom line is, facilitating some form of communication is important and depending on the age of your kids, you will have a bigger or lesser role in this. Your kids might not be old enough for their own email account; this depends on your preferred email provider and also some countries have age requirements. We let the boys use ours until they were. Also, just as a note: many of the schools now give kids their own emails, but they will then delete them after so many months post-enrollment. Be sure to save the contact info in their school accounts to a personal account so they don’t lose touch. Also, having physical mailing addresses are fun, too; a great way to stay in touch is a yearly holiday card!
As kids get older, they start developing their online persona; they will have their Snapchat and Instagram (and who knows what else) accounts. That is another great way for kids to stay in touch and get a glimpse of what is going on in their friends’ lives.
3. Especially if parents are friends, too, try to plan a visit down the road. Okay, there are friends and then there are FRIENDS. I can count on two hands the people I would love to go and visit who have kids my kids like to spend time with too. Planning a trip like this is expensive, but you can make it work. Sometimes – ahem – it isn’t all about us. Sometimes, we have to put the kids’ needs first. And yes, sometimes that means you are going to have to spend an evening with someone you may not necessarily think of as your best bosom buddy because your kid will really benefit from it. This is about them and their needs.
4. We have friends (big people friends) with kids who my kids think of as near-brothers. Through some Ma Nature miracle, we get along with the parents nearly as well as the 6 kids (3 our side, 3 theirs) do. What’s not to love? Well, other than the 1,500 miles that separate our two current countries. But you know what? This is what R&R, leave and Home Leave are for. This is why FSOs get earn leave. This is why we join this sort of lifestyle. This is why they invented sites like AirBandB.com and homeaway.com so you can find that perfect house to rent where all 10 of you can be for a week and still have space enough for everyone. Friends, we are in the Foreign Service for a reason, are we not? Is this whole lifestyle not about being flexible, exploring new places and meeting great people? So go forth, plan a trip to meet up at some fun quasi-central location. Yes, it is more expensive than going to the States and living in your childhood bedroom (aka the ‘spare bedroom’) for a month (with your entire family in one room and zero drawer space. What fun.). But you know what? By meeting your friends instead in a far-flung location, you AND your kids will be creating memories and lasting friendships. There is nothing better than that. I know I fully intend to go camp in someone’s living room in Hawaii soon enough with another friend-family, and have been trying to plan for a somewhere-in-the-middle visit with some more. Every time we go back, we have dates with friends (and their kids!) in and around DC/VA. Time to catch-up for us and for the kids is a good thing.
Be kind to yourself, though, if this is just not feasible. It is really okay to not be able to plan a trip to meet up. It is really okay to not be able to see one another for a few years. Know that you can love your friends from afar, too; it will make the times you do get to actually be in the same city/space that much more treasured.
5. Tell your kids it is okay to miss their friends. It is okay to be sad. It is okay to cry, too, if they want. And it is important to understand that these big feelings are just temporary. These friends will be forever in our memory, and we may very well see them again someday (it IS, after all, a small world, remember?). We can write, we can email; we can stay in touch. And, more importantly, even though we will miss our beloved friends, we will also make new ones. And these new friends? We will love them, too, and miss them just as much when the time comes for the next move. Listen, truly, one can never have too many friends.
Remember, too, the other side of this whole situation: your and/or your kids’ friends who are leaving are also dealing with a lot: leaving friends, the familiar, the known, and heading off to who knows what. Those leaving face so much uncertainty about their next few months which will be mostly in limbo before they FINALLY get to Point B and start the settling in process, never mind the moving angst (absolutely no one enjoys the packing-out process) that they are bound to be a little grouchy or touchy. They are going to be busy with all of the farewells, and packing and sorting … don’t get your feelings hurt if they can’t come to your party or join you for dinner. They need time to just be, too, and time for all of the little moving details. Try to remind yourself and your kids: this is an excellent time to be patient, and let it be about someone else. Grouchiness in your general vicinity is not necessarily grouchiness directed at you. Just like for you: Some days are easier for you and not so much for your kids, or visa versa.
It IS a small world, after all. Saying goodbye is really more like saying ‘see you later’. Because chances are, you will see each other again very soon.