"Sing the friends song, mommy," my two-year-old son insists.
I rock with him on my lap and repeat the lines I learned as a little girl in Girl Scouts: Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold. I’ve been repeating it to him since we moved out of the only home he’s ever known and the place where all of his friends reside.
The song offers good advice, and my son is taking it to heart. During idle moments in his car seat or stroller, he’ll recite names as if his life depends on remembering them: “Isla. Alec. Yam. Sienna. Gustavo. Noel. Beth.”
This is my son’s first move, but I’m a veteran. I’m a former diplomat, and my husband’s job takes us to a new country every two to four years. We’re currently in the U.S. for a few months on our way to Jerusalem, after a two-year stint in Barbados. It sounds exciting. It is, but it’s also lonely.
Each time we come back to the U.S., old friends seem to drift further and further away. Conversations that used to be full of giggles and inside jokes become forced and generic. How have you been? How's work? How's your mother?
They respond with questions that come off as equally cookie-cutter: "How was India? someone asks for the fourth time that week. I repeat my canned response about the crowds and the spicy food, not saying anything that I want to say because I don’t know how to describe what it was like to live there in the socially acceptable 10 seconds I am allotted to respond.
I excitedly tell my brother I’m looking forward to seeing his new apartment in New York City. He reminds me that he’s been living there for three years now. I eagerly wait to see my friend’s "new baby." She’s two-and-a-half. At least we’re still in touch. Unable to hold on across the miles, I watch more and more of my golden friends slip away, with the occasional Facebook like the only evidence of their continued existence.
We’re in a corporate hotel room now, the kind that comes with exactly four plates and exactly four forks and a dining table so small that it practically begs you to just go out to the nearest fast food joint instead.
I think about getting in touch with a friend from high school who’s living in the area where we’re staying (I know this, of course, from Facebook.). I look out of the window wistfully, ready to fondly reminisce about those years, expecting to see the palm trees that I became so used to in Barbados. I‘m jolted back to reality when I look directly out onto a brick wall instead. It seems like an ominous metaphor.
If I can’t keep my old friends, I figure I can at least try to make new ones. But just try telling the awesome mom you met at the local park that you’re only in town for six more weeks. It scares away women faster than a frat boy casually mentioning on a date that he’s “just not looking for something serious right now.”
My son has it easier. I place him in the sandbox at the local park and instruct him to give one of his trucks to the other boy there, who looks to be about his age. The boy eagerly grasps it. "Now go ask that boy if he wants to be your friend," I instruct him next.
The boy does, of course. At two, it really is that easy.
I wish I could say that I learned from my son. That I realized that at heart, everyone wants to be liked and everyone is open to friendship. That I finally started to put myself out there and called that friend from high school, or that I clicked with the mother of the boy at the playground, or that I joined a yoga studio and became the life of the party at future outings. I didn’t. Not yet, at least.
Making new friends as an adult isn’t easy. I guess that’s why the ones we have are as good as gold.
Originally published on BlogHer.
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