Three days ago, we got a message from the mother of two of Nora’s friends in Huntsville. After orientation before the first day of school, she had taken her boys to lunch.
“I can’t wait to see Nora, I have missed her so much,” her youngest boy told her. “She is my best friend.”
This mother explained to her son that Nora isn’t going back to school with him this year: she moved to another school. The little boy broke down in tears.
When I read the message, I felt such empathy. Just last week, I overheard Nora talking about what she would say to her friends when she goes back to school.
“I’ll tell them about my adventures. I’ll tell them about the ocean. I wonder what they’ve been doing all summer,” she said to her doll. She had set up a circle of stuffed animal friends and named them after a few of her school friends.
I could have stepped in and reminded her that she won’t see those friends at school this year. Maybe she won’t see them ever again. But that felt like a gloomy rain cloud over her sunny day, so I let the moment slip by, choosing to enjoy her imaginative play rather than worry about the impact of this move on her friendships.
“Do you want to FaceTime or something?” I responded to the mom who’d sent me the message that morning. We made arrangements for a quick video chat with the two young friends, and less than an hour later, the two buddies were grinning at each other from across the world.
After a lot of giggling, Nora showed her friend a huge stuffed unicorn. So he brought out a narwhal. A quick show-and-tell ensued while the boy’s mom and I chatted about summer vacations and the fast approaching first day of school. Eventually, we said goodbye, see you later, have a great day, and hit the red button to end the call.
Introvert on the move
Jake and I have always said that Nora is our introvert. At one, she would bury her head in my armpit when people tried to interact with her. At two in Maryland, she trusted no one but me and grandmas (she wasn’t too picky about whether she was even related to the grandma), dissolving in tears if I left her with Jake to go to a dentist appointment. At three in Virginia, she had two friends, and she was heartbroken when we moved to Alabama so she couldn’t see them anymore.
Preschool brought out Nora’s personality. She bonded quickly with her preschool teacher, a kind, quiet woman with a soft voice and tenacious spirit. She made friends and began begging to stay longer at school.
She stayed a second year in the preschool, solidifying the previous year’s friendships and welcoming some new faces to her circle of trust. The smooth transition to Kindergarten with many of her friends from preschool was more than I had hoped for when we had struggled through those years of shrieking when she stayed home with Daddy. Now, Nora was proud to come home and tell me about her teachers and friends, listing the names of everyone she knew, everyone who had broadened her world from a handful of trusted family members to a hundred friends and a school full of kind teachers.
On our last day at the school, I had a tight ball of nostalgia and anxiety. Nora’s school had been the village that helped me raise my baby into girlhood. Together, we had seen her transform from a fearful, wide-eyed preschooler to a confident, strong-willed girl. I am so proud of her.
When we moved to Kwajalein, my greatest fear for Nora was that she would retreat back into herself. Making friends is chancy. It takes reaching out, extending yourself out into the world, risking rejection. To our great delight, Nora began making new friends before we even made it to the island. In the terminal at the airport, she was off playing cards with a group of girls, and I could see her giggling and bouncing as she chatted with them. So while I was less anxious, I was still concerned that she would struggle to make new friends on the island.
How to make friends, six-year-old style
Back to three days ago, when we got the message from Nora’s school friend in Alabama, we had some morning plans at the beach with a brand-new friend here on Kwajalein. After the video chat, we loaded our beach gear in the bike trailer and pedaled to the lagoon. Nora’s new friend arrived with doughnuts from the island bakery, so the new buddies nibbled on some breakfast before streaking down to the water, goggles trailing behind them.
The only two swimmers on the beach for much of the morning, their laughter and shouts carried on the ocean breeze to where I sat with my own new friend. We watched them slip in and out of the water, diving and splaching. We saw them whisper secrets about Minecraft and ghosts on the island. With the eternal energy of children, they were in constant motion, swimming, running, building. And over it all, the constant chatter of a new friendship.
At lunchtime, we gathered our things, preparing to head home.
“I get to have two playdates in one day!” Nora said, throwing her goggles in our beach bag.
“Two playdates?” I asked.
“Yes,” she answered. “One with my new friend and one with my old friend. I can keep them both!”
Yes, Nora. And they’re both gold.