Louise Emma Clarke hates saying goodbye….
It was a Tuesday, around midday, when I heard a ping and grabbed my phone. “I’ve got something to tell you,” it said, “Meet this afternoon?” My heart sank. I knew what was coming. It wasn’t the first time and I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be the last. He was leaving.
Before you pass the tissues, let me enlighten you. It wasn’t my husband jetting away to far away shores. It was my son’s best friend. After years of play dates, getting to know his mother better than I knew members of my own family, and envisaging a lovely future together here in the dessert as the boys grew up, it was all about to end.
I felt tears pricking my eyes as I imagined my toddler waking up from his nap and excitedly remembering that we were off to see his friend. I imagined afternoons stretched out in the future where I had to explain his absence, trying to avoid mentioning his name and changing the subject when he came up in conversation. It would be like trying to forget an ex-boyfriend, with the added inconvenience of a toddler asking ‘Why? Why? Why?’ every five minutes and shedding tears when I didn’t have the answer.
That afternoon, as my friend told me about their return to their home country, I experienced a horrible sinking feeling when I realised I was losing a friend too. I had a flashback of one particular afternoon, when we sat swigging cups of coffee together on her sofa, so engrossed in conversation that we didn’t notice the toddlers had emptied her entire wardrobe into the bath and turned the tap on. It wasn’t our proudest moment as mothers, but was nothing that the sunshine and a clothes dryer couldn’t fix. Then there was the time I was so heavily pregnant that I couldn’t get off the sofa and we laughed so much that we cried. I remembered play dates in the sunshine, I remembered evenings moaning about toddler tantrums over drinks, and I remembered phone calls and messages when we needed help or support. It would all be gone in a puff of smoke.
You know how the story goes. We had one last play date and took lots of photos of the boys together – and as we said goodbye with smiles on our faces, but tears in our eyes, we vowed to stay in touch. Just like that, a big part of our weekly routine was gone - and I started the hunt for a new best friend for a lonely toddler.
Before long, we were invited to join a fellow mum-of-two for an afternoon play date. I quickly accepted, but couldn’t get over the fact that it felt like we were getting ready for a blind date. Before we left the apartment, I briefed the toddler. “It’s up to you,” I said, “Behave yourself and you may have a new best friend. Remember to share, remember to be kind, and remember to say please and thank you.” He looked at me as if I’d gone bonkers (which was very likely), threw his cheerios across the room, and quacked like a duck. I wasn’t entirely sure he’d got the message, but it was too late to back out now.
We had arranged to meet at a play area. As I got the kids out the car in the basement, a message pinged on my phone. “How will I know it’s you?” it read. “Look for the harassed mother of two; we won’t be hard to spot!,” I typed back, before shepherding my brood towards the lift.
I wasn’t wrong. The baby decided to have a meltdown on our arrival, which turned all eyes in the room to the door as we fumbled through it. I shut my eyes for a second and longed to see my old friend in front of me when I opened them – but instead, I was met with the toddler raiding my bag for snacks and the baby red in the face with frustration.
I didn’t need to worry, of course. I spotted our new friends in the crowd and smiled – and a few seconds later, they were by our side. The toddlers bonded instantly – so quickly, in fact, that I felt a pang of sadness. Could our friends really be replaced so easily? As I watched the two of them scale the jungle gym together, I surmised that was very possible at the age of two. On the plus side, at least he wouldn’t be psychologically damaged every time a friend disappeared. I turned to his Mum and offered to go and order coffee. “As strong as they’ve got,” she quipped back, “I’m surviving on caffeine today”. And that was the moment I knew we’d become good friends.