'Tis 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 realize that it really means that they won't be seeing their friend in the morning. Or next week. Or next school year. We are nomads, right? That’s easy to understand this as an adult; so much harder to as a child.
As adults, saying goodbye can be tough. One of the best parts of the Foreign Service -- meeting new and amazing people -- becomes one of the worst -- those amazing people, who have become your good friends, departing. Oh, the pain! The anguish! I'm not mocking you: it truly is so hard to say goodbye. People who have touched our lives, touched our hearts, are not going to be there every day like we’ve become accustomed. It helps knowing that Disney was on to something, and it really IS a small world, after all. But it's still larger than we'd like, and Arlington, Accra, or Antananarivo are indeed a long way from Dakar. Sure, having friends in far places means having a person to visit and a place 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. 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’s hard, but we get it.
Little people, though, do not have the same understanding of the situation. In my time 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, harder, to pets who have passed. No goodbye is 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 get a tough 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 hit hard 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 and having to say goodbye to our friends (probably not in that order).
Two of my kids are especially hard hit by the good-byes this spring: one has 3 our 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. To each it’s hard, especially when there is no real grasp on what it means to say goodbye to someone for forever. Like for always. My older son gets it; the younger one? Not so much. For someone who has no real grasp of time or distance, all this goodbye means to him is that his buddy isn’t going to be there during camp 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. As they get older, they also develop skills like using email or other social media to stay in touch.
What else can we do to help our kids deal with these goodbyes?
Let your kids spend extra time with their soon-to-depart buddy. It isn’t 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 current 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.
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 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?
Especially if parents are friends, too, try to plan a visit. 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’re 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.
We have friends with kids that 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 and leave is for. 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 have space enough for everyone. Friends, you’re in the Foreign Service for a reason, are you not? Is this not about being flexible, exploring new places and meeting people? So go forth, plan a trip to meet up at some fun quasi-central location. Yes, it’s more expensive than going to the States and living in your childhood bedroom (aka the ‘spare bedroom’) for a month (with your entire family and no drawer space. What fun.). But you know what? You AND your kids will be creating memories and lasting friendships. There’s no better thing than that.
Tell your kids it’s okay to miss their friends. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to cry if they want. And it’s important to know that it’s just temporary. These friends will be forever in our memory, and we may very well see them again some day (it IS, after all, a small world, remember?). And, more importantly, even though we will miss our beloved friends, we will also make new ones. And we will love them, too, and miss them just as much.