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‘Tis the season again. The time of mass exodus from post. 'Tis the season for perfecting your own spin on saying ‘see you later’. '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 having realized what it really means that they won't be seeing their friend in the morning. Or next week. Or next school year. Every year, every summer, it's someone’s turn. We are nomads, right? We have chosen this lifestyle. 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 -- becomes one of the most unpleasant as those amazing people, who have become dear friends, depart post to move on to their next, leaving you behind. Except they aren’t really. They are moving on, and it doesn’t have anything to do with you, really, other than your reaction to it. They move, just like you will too soon enough. Again, this is the lifestyle we have chosen, right? Still, it can be hard to deal with. Oh, the pain! The anguish! I'm not mocking you: it truly is so hard to say goodbye. People who have touched our lives, and touched our hearts, are not going to be there every day as we have become accustomed. I really feel that it does help knowing that Disney was on to something, and it really IS a small world, after all. But it is also still larger than we would like, and Arlington, Accra, or Antananarivo are indeed a long way from Wherever in the World We are. 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 when family travel means those price tags x 5. My math equates that with ‘ouch!’). Still, we meet these amazing people, we form friendships, and we live with the knowledge that IF we make an effort, 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. 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 harder, to pets who have passed. To favorite places, favorite restaurants and favorite cars. Goodbye is never easy, but 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 of skills that will get them through. Some get a tough outer shell, some focus more in developing more ‘surface’ friendships rather than investing themselves emotionally, and others just throw themselves in to one or two big-deal BFF 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, the winds picking up, 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.'
All of my kids are especially hard hit by the good-byes last spring: we are all leaving our home, friends and comfort zone. This year, it is less so. Each year, the boys have had any number of friends leaving. A couple of years ago, one 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 even now is still mostly blissfully unaware, though his best buddy in class left at December break. This year? We've already had some hard goodbye moments as the departures started. 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 yet. For someone who has no real grasp of time or distance, all this goodbye means is that his buddy isn’t going to be there during 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. Goodbye is not really goodbye but ‘see you later’. As they get older, they also develop skills like using email or other social media to stay in touch. This all helps. Well, except then we have to allow them more time on their devices and we open that OTHER can of worms... (you did know that parenting issues are all pretty much interwoven, right?)
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 isn’t going to make it all better, but at least they get a few extra hours of quality time. In the past, we have had a ‘say hello to summertime’ get-together with the kids’ favorite friends before leaving for our next post. We bring popsicles and squirt guns, and the kids will run until they (almost literally) drop. Sharing a fun memory with friends is a great way to say goodbye. We can take pics, and share them with parents to share with their kids, too. Another mom of one of my youngest’s friends is an amazing photographer, and she gave us prints of pics of the boys together for them to remember each other. What a treasure! This is also a great time to have a group sleepover or camp out. Yes, I know, they won’t sleep and neither will you (sorry about that!). But they will so remember those giggle-filled midnight hours. (You should also know they will likely be evil maybe mid-afternoon the following day. Be prepared.)
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 more likely 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'll have a bigger or smaller role in this.
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’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. Two other families give us 2 ‘sisters’ to add into that mix and yet another has 2 boys my three adore. What’s not to love? Well, other than the thousands of miles and time zones that separate all of our current countries. But you know what? This is what R&R, leave and Home 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 lifetstyle 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. I know I fully intend to go camp in someone’s living room in Hawaii soon enough with one family, and will be meeting up in a cave-side house with some more. Whenever we are stateside we have dates with friends (and their kids!) in and around DC/VA and can’t wait. Time to catch-up for us and for the kids is a good thing.
4. 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 understand 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?). 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 we will love them, too, and miss them just as much when the time comes for the next move. One can never have too many friends, right?
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. Packing up a houseful if stuff to be seen again who knows when. Selling cars. Shipping pets. Those leaving face so much uncertainty about their next few months most of which will be in limbo until they finally FINALLY get to Point B and start the settling in process. So never mind the moving angst (absolutely no one enjoys the packing out process) that they are bound to be a little grouchy or touchy. Try to remind yourself and your kids: this is an excellent time to be patient, and let it be about someone else. Some days are easier for you and not so much for your kids, or visa versa.
Friends are friends are friends, no matter where in the world they are. Sure, you won’t see them every day but with a little effort, you can still stay in touch. And stay a good friend.