On Thursday, we said our final, tearful goodbye to our great friends, Lauren and her son Noah. It was sad to see them go. So sad to watch Lauren hug my daughter for the last time. Lauren was T’s favorite “other” mom for a long time, especially during the co-op year when T was 17-25 months old. She called Lauren “Mom” while reserving “Mama” for me. And being a mom to an equally rambunctious child, Lauren had such patience for T in her more trying moments. I remember her saying once that she loved how T could find a physical outlet for all of her manic energy (as opposed to the phase of hitting or shoving that her son Noah was going through at the time) and referred to it as T having “a Kate Bush moment.” I’ve since youtubed Kate Bush, and I’m still not sure I completely get the reference regarding the English singer. But I pretty much get it (watching Kate Bush’s flailing dance moves seemed very familiar to me) and love it that Lauren could see something positive in T’s momentary physical incoherence. For a lot of reasons, it’s sad to see them go.
As we were at the park across the street from our house, having our last playdate with them and some other friends before a pizza dinner, I spotted the new family in the neighborhood. I’ve become attentive to them, because a couple years ago they spent 7 months, in of all places, New Zealand. My husband was the first to meet them a few weeks ago, the wife and their two kids, a 4 year-old daughter and a 2 year-old son. The daughter, Clarissa, has been so extroverted. She approached us one afternoon at a different park, walking up to T saying, “Hi. Remember me? I played with you at the other park.” It took me a second to remember the story my husband had told me and I quickly tried to facilitate a re-introduction and encourage T to play with her. But I’ve seen T have trouble including other friends when she’s fully emmersed in the context of playing with her “neighborhood” friends. When she sees a school friend, or for example, this new friend, Clarissa, she freezes up, seems to feel uncomfortable, and despite my urging, has a tough time including the new friend into whatever game they’re playing.
Since that first day of meeting Clarissa, I’ve seen her and her family at various parks around the neighborhood and each time, Clarissa has been very out-going and unfortunately, more often than not, she’s been met by T’s awkwardness, masquerading as aloofness, a common 3 year-old trait, I think. I’m sure part of her attitude is a result of my pushing her to “be nice” and “be a good friend.” (She’s always resistant to anything that I’m adamant about.) But it’s painful for me to watch this girl try to reach out and make new friends and to watch my daughter snub her. And I’ve said things to T like, “You know, one day we may move and we might not know anyone and then we would realize how wonderful it is when people are friendly and inclusive with everyone, even the new kid.” Because I can’t help but see this as us in a year. I will surely find myself, at some playground, watching my out-going daughter try to make friends with kids who already have enough friends, who feel no sympathy for a kid with no friends, who feel no obligation to include the new kid out of mere decency. And it was on Thursday as I was at the park, trying to take in all the details of our last play date with Lauren and Noah, that I was also acutely aware of Clarissa’s dad, sitting at the nearby table with his kids. Perhaps he has plenty of friends around town. Perhaps he wasn’t hoping that any of us there that day would strike up a conversation with him. But I’m an extroverted person. I very much like to have friends. And I couldn’t help but empathize with his role as a new parent in the neighborhood. And since I know that once we move, we’ll have many weeks of feeling alone, I couldn’t help but imagine myself trying to make friends in a new land, feeling stranded across the globe from all of my acquaintances, all of my loved ones, and sensing invisible walls between our family and all the other happy and many-friended families in town.
Surely this would be the case no matter where we move. However, somewhere in this decision to move so far away, lies a shadow of loneliness, larger than it should be. What is making this loneliness seem bigger? Our newness to everything: the city, the country, the hemisphere? The sheer distance we’ll be from our friends and family and the stress that will surely put on us? The inevitable association with our Americanness and therefore our foreignness?
I guess what makes this adventure so exciting is that as a family, we are exploring uncharted land. While the hurdle of making new friends would exist equally in Dunedin as it would in, say, Asheville, NC, where we also know not a soul, there is definitely a difference in how we would prepare for such a move. While never having lived in Asheville, we can probably guess what it will be like and most likely be close on a lot of points. But when it comes to our move to New Zealand, it feels entirely unknown. Which is what makes it an adventure. But in committing to the unknown, we are acknowledging that we’ll be foreigners and that everything, for awhile at least, will seem foreign. And because of that, there will be a barrier of newness, a barrier of adjustment that will lengthen the time it will take us to fit in. We’ll have to slowly chip away at this buffer bit by bit until it’s no longer there. And it’s because of the extra time it will likely take us to acclimate, I can’t help but anticipate and fear a longer-than-usual period of loneliness, when all I’ll want is to have friends just like the ones we left in Boston. Friends that I can meet up with that afternoon to vent about the daily trials of being a mom, or a wife, or a human in a frustrating world. When all I’ll want is to be anticipating a visit with my family. But we will be too far away for that. I’ll be half across the world.