During the Cambridge Public School vacation week, my friends and I found ourselves with a bunch of kids on our hands. So we joined forces and alternated taking the young ones and old ones on various outings. One afternoon, I offered to take the older kids on an outing to Revere Beach. And it was on this outing, watching the four 5-year-olds interacting, that I was struck with an undeniable certainty that to pull Thora out of her social circle will be nothing short of miserable.
First of all, I was astonished to watch Thora and her other girlfriend, Mia, compete for the attention of their friend, River, who incidentally seems pretty clearly uninterested in their new-found love of flirting.
Perhaps it was this new complication to their friendship and the surprisingly nuanced competition between Mia and Thora, but I sat next to them on the T, traveling the hour and 3 trains to Revere Beach, and was stunned at their personalities and social maneuvering. The thought I kept thinking was that these kids could be 15, not 5. They so comfortably draped their arms over one another. At one point Thora said to Mia, “I like your dress. It’s so fancy. You always look so fancy.” Thora watched Mia and River talking and flirting until she couldn’t take it anymore and then had to interject herself into their conversation the only way she could think of: “Hey Guys! You want to hear this song I learned at school?”
While we were waiting at one of the stations to switch trains, Mia pulled out her camera (an old digital camera she inherited from her parents) to snap a photo. Watching her pull out the camera (in its travel case!) and watching her friends pose in such languid and affectionate ways, as if they were play-acting the roles of teenagers, it was almost too much to bear. Seriously, this moment seemed like a scene straight out of a coming of age movie. There was something significant, too, in seeing that at 5 and 1/2, Mia already had the impulse to capture this moment forever. Did she recognize that it’s mundane and silly moments like these that are what make up our lives? Could she possibly sense how fleeting these moments are? How fleeting their time together now is? I was mildly heartbroken, since I knew that I was the only one among us who knew how truly fleeting that moment was. In 4 months, we will be gone. Thora will no longer be part of this family of friends that she has made for herself. There will be a hole left by her absence that will slowly close over, and then there won’t be a hole there at all.
Perhaps this is partly why I sensed that they had aged beyond their years. I alone am looking at them through the lens of my own nostalgia, my lost innocence, and seeing them on the cusp of one of many Final Summers to come. The kids are all enrolled in different elementary schools. This is their final summer as a close knit family of friends before they disperse into the larger Cambridge Public School System. They’ll likely grow apart over the years due to this factor alone. It’s sweet, but unrealistic to think that if we left well enough alone, I could be witnessing this same scene play out 10 years from now. Our lives are a series of scattering, sometimes losing our closest friends among the many eyes and long hallways of our high school, sometimes losing our closest friends as we scatter out into the world after our high school and college graduations. It’s silly to think that I’m doing something cruel to her. Surely this would’ve happened on it’s own at some point.
As I watched them, admiring their playfulness, their innocence, while at the same time seeing the shadows of their future teenage selves, I couldn’t help but think that I’d been wrong about how this extraction will affect Thora and us. I think up until that moment, I’d reminded myself about how adaptable kids are, how kids are moved all the time and it doesn’t ruin them, how in fact I was moved at almost exactly this age and I had all but forgotten this detail about my past. And yes, all that is still true. Not to mention that the benefit of moving abroad and showing our kids more and more of the world will surely outweigh the pain of leaving. But it was at that moment that I saw her friendships with these kids as something much weightier. These aren’t “baby” friends. These relationships aren’t the insignificant byproduct of me and their moms being friends. These are real relationships of their own.
Of course I’ve known all along that the transition to our new life, making new friends, grieving our old lives, will be difficult. But on that train to the beach, I got a good sense of the heaviness we’ll feel on our hearts. I thought about that hole that will be left in Thora’s absence. That void that could’ve been our daughter. When September comes and all the kids disperse to their elementary schools, Thora will be on the other side of the world making a new life for herself, all of us distracting ourselves with the adventure in hopes not to feel the agony that is our sadness.