“You know who my first girlfriend was?” I was minding my own business, grading papers at my desk during free time the other day when one my students decided to pour his heart out to me.
“Your first girlfriend?” I asked, stifling a chuckle. “Hmmm, no I don’t think I know who your first girlfriend was.”
“My first girlfriend was Sara. Do you know Sara? I really loved Sara. I wanted to marry her. But she goes to a different school now. I don’t know where she is. Who am I going to marry now?” I reached over and gave my heartbroken little friend a hug for losing the love of his life. “I wonder who my next girlfriend will be.” Then he shrugged his shoulders, and poof, he was off to build a Lego masterpiece with his buddies. Ahh, the resilience of a 5-year-old.
I watched the boy laugh with his friends, and I imagined his life as he grew up. This wouldn’t be his last heartbreak. This wouldn’t be the last time a friend left to attend a different school. This wouldn’t be the last time he lost track of friends. I knew this because, like my own children, he is a military brat. His life is destined to be filled with good-byes.
My kids have already said lots of good-byes. At almost 8 years old, my son has lived in 5 different houses in 2 different states and 2 different countries. My daughter, at 4 years old, has lived in 3 different houses in 2 different countries. They’ve said good-bye to friends who were PCS’ing, and they’ve said good-bye to friends because of our own PCS’es. They’ve seen friends come and go, and they’ve seen old friends make reappearances in new locations. Yes, the military lifestyle is filled with good-byes.
Luckily my children don’t remember most of these good-byes because they were both too young to remember our last PCS move, and so far we’ve been successful at homesteading at our current duty station. This is actually the 3rd year my son has attended the same elementary school! That’s highly unusual in military life. And I’m so grateful. We’ve managed to keep the good-byes at bay.
But there’s no guarantee how long we’ll be here. And there’s no guarantee how long friends will be here. In fact, our family will soon be saying good-bye to friends we’ve already said good-bye to once before. But this second farewell will be much harder than the first. This time my kids are old enough to understand what good-bye means. This time they’re old enough to miss their friends. This time I have a lot more explaining to do. This time will be tough because I’m going to be just as devastated to say good-bye to my own friend as they will be to say good-bye to their friends.
As I’ve said good-bye to friends in the past, I told myself it wasn’t good-bye, it was see you later. Deep down I knew that some of those people would resurface later in my life and some I’d never hear from again. It’s easy to rationalize these good-byes as an adult. But it’s not so easy for kids.
Whether it’s one of my kindergarten students saying good-bye to his first girlfriend or my son saying good-bye to his Bey Blades battle buddy or my daughter saying good-bye to the only consistent playmates she’s ever known, I try to remind these amazing children, these sons and daughters of service members, these military brats who didn’t ask to be a part of this crazy lifestyle, that it’s not good-bye. It’s always see you later. One day our paths will cross again. In the meantime, we’ll keep in touch and meet some new friends along the way.
I hope that my children’s good-byes are limited. I hope that the good-byes they do have to say become life lessons in appreciating friendships and working to maintain them no matter how geographically challenged they may be. And I hope that they’re always as resilient as my 5-year-old student as he searches for his next bride-to-be.