Motherly Collective

“Can I visit him in Ireland?” my four-year-old son asked, his voice quivering slightly as he pulled his thumb from his mouth. Before I could answer, he’d changed the subject: “can I get a new dinosaur from the store?” It was clear my son, in the best way he knew how, was trying to pave over the loss of his first childhood friend.

Their friendship was unexpected. A rocky start at another daycare had led us down a path to this new preschool. Their fledgling fisticuffs eventually turned into inseparability and pure joy from being in one another’s company.

When we first learned my son’s best friend was moving away, we knew they had five months left together. The question spun on repeat in my mind as the months wound down. How were we going to break it to him—an only child—that the one person whom he played with most and talked about endlessly would suddenly not be there?

Eventually a final playdate was set up and farewell gifts were exchanged. I debated whether or not to go—I feared the heartache my little boy would feel once his friend was truly gone. 

Change wasn’t new to me. I have traveled around the world, lived overseas and moved provinces three times. But motherhood in my 40s brought something new into focus. I too had been an only child and seen my fair share of friends come and go. While I had a full contact list from all the places I had lived and a roster of friends on social media, I felt absence more than presence.

Memories I once made with friends still lit up my face each time I thought of them. But they were sealed in time, created in a moment that had long passed. 

A random connection made in an unlikely place, but all the more precious because of it.

The memory of those endings made me well up during bedtime as my son told me that he was sad his friend was leaving. I was grateful that he couldn’t see my face as I felt the loss and the ones that would inevitably come. Life is full of change and as much as I wish I could shield him from this loss, I couldn’t.

On the day of the final playdate, I took my time parking the car. I circled back three times before composing myself to join them.

The boys played gleefully in a wet sandbox, tossing clumps of mud into the air and running away from each other. I was happy to see my son so full of joy, witnessing this pure, little friendship that he had made. I felt proud that he had found someone who was a match for his strong-willed personality.

When it came time to say goodbye my son stood meekly in his sand-caked shorts, his gaze lingered on his friend’s face for a little while as he told us he didn’t want him to go. I switched on the reassuring version of myself only seen in doctors’ offices when he was about to get a needle. But soon enough they were fighting over a sun hat. They were still in their moment—the last second of innocence. 

Personal experience had taught me that the sadness of goodbye could creep into moments of silence and hover in rooms at unexpected hours. And though he might not remember the magic of his first real friendship, I would. A random connection made in an unlikely place, but all the more precious because of it. 

After a week or two, my son had mostly moved on from his loss. There was the occasional ask about whether his friend was “still in the world,” but he was reassured by our answers.

Yet I found it much harder to shake the feeling. I thought about what he had lost and the uniqueness of their connection. Heard their little voices, like reflections of each other, as they ran through our house chasing each other.

But it was likely just my own echo I was hearing. The laughter of my own childhood as I rode through town alongside my best friend on bikes decorated for Canada Day. The hour-long conversations on the phone about a boy I liked. Thirty some years and over a thousand miles away, I was still hearing them–maybe clearer than ever before. 

They were still in the world and I was happy to know it. But it reminded me of how life will be full of these encounters and chances. Friendships formed in unexpected circumstances. It’s our willingness to keep moving into the unknown that determines who we meet, the places we go and the vibrancy of the stories we will one day tell. I can’t wait to hear the stories my son will tell me one day, even if he doesn’t remember this one.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother's journey is unique. By amplifying each mother's experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you're interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.

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