Mar 2011

You Say Goodbye I Say Hello

Ever since my dad took a government job in DC and I trudged up the hill to start off my school career at Peter Piper Preschool in McLean, I’ve considered Northern Virginia my home. And although I know it can’t be true, I feel as though I grew up with, and went to school with, pretty much the exact same group of kids from preschool through Spring Hill-Cooper-Langley.

Diversity seemed a foreign word during my 1970s and ‘80s growing-up years. Try as I might, the most exotic new classmate I can remember hailed from Omaha.

Things didn’t change much when I went to college at Miami University. In Ohio.

But fast-forward to adulthood, and it’s a whole new scene, with a new awareness and a changing population. Today, as a mom with kids in Falls Church City schools, I’m realizing that my boys will have a very different grade school experience than I did, even though we’re living five miles from my childhood home, and even though we have no plans whatsoever to move.

It’s fantastic.

In preschool, our youngest son befriended a little boy whose family lived in the Oakwood apartments, where many families with the State Department’s Foreign Service reside. We enjoyed hours-long playdates in its sunny courtyard, where kids from all nations effortlessly switched between languages until they found common ground. If they couldn’t, no matter: give a bunch of four year olds a ball, and they have all they need to make a new friend.

We’ve had Skype conversations with former classmates who now live on the other side of the world, and it hasn’t escaped our boys’ notice that while we were wearing winter pajamas and getting ready for bed, our friends were wearing shorts and t-shirts and drinking their morning orange juice. It has led to some pretty cool conversations. (Mom, does this also mean that when they stand up, they’re actually hanging upside down under the earth?)

Our shower curtain, which is a world map, has turned into a nightly geography lesson, as we point out Bosnia and Brussels and Cameroon, just a few of the places that friends and classmates have called home.

And just last week, our kindergartner’s class at Mt. Daniel welcomed a new student whose family evacuated from Cairo. So while my son can’t read the front page of The Washington Post, he’s getting a front row seat to our world’s events.

But like everything, there’s a flip side to this coin. The yin to the yang. The other side of the story: People move here, but then people move away.

It’s devastating.

Our son, whose class has an unusually high percentage of military and government agency families, has had to say goodbye to a half dozen friends this school year alone. His teachers have become experts at churning sweet lemonade out of a situation that is, while fabulous for social skills and chock full of teaching moments, pretty tough for five year olds to understand. We’ve explained to our son that it’s been a highly unusual year; his older brother, after all, has seen only one classmate move away during his three years in school. We remind him that we ourselves have moved—changing schools and changing houses and look! look how well it’s all turned out!

But sometimes, I’ll admit that it’s not always easy to put on a brave face for a sad little boy. The other day when we were walking home from school, he asked me if one of his newest little friends would move. I haven’t yet met the boy or his family, so I wasn’t sure.

I wanted to tell him that no matter what happened, every friendship is a gift. That as he looks back on his life, some of his strongest and best memories will be the ones he shared with friends. That every relationship, whether it ultimately proves to be a positive one or a negative one, will teach him things about himself and about what’s important in life. That it’s always worth it.

But he’s five. All he’d hear is blah blah blah friend blah blah.

So I went with my heart, and I went with the truth. And I told him, “I don’t know, sweet baby. I hope not, but I really don’t know.”

And then I asked, “So when should we have him over for a playdate?”


This article was originally published March 9, 2011 on

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