Monday, 23 July 2012
Three years ago, when I arrived here, not knowing a single person in this town, I dragged the Littleboys to the local playground. It was The Doctor's first day at work and my first on my own with the boys in a strange country.
The playground was virtually empty - the schools hadn't quite broken up, and the early June weather was grey and murky. There was one other person there, a blonde woman pushing a small blond boy on a swing. As I pushed my boys on the swing alongside, I overheard her talking to her child in what sounded like a foreign language. Determined to start somewhere in making friends, I took a deep breath and started a conversation, asking her if she lived nearby.
Turns out she did, but was from Germany, and had been here two years. Her little boy was a few months older than Littleboy 2. Immediately she started to tell me all about the town, explaining about preschools and the library and the online mums' group. She took me next door to the community centre for parents, and introduced me to the director. Already I felt as if I knew a hundred times more about the town.
I was immensely grateful, and we swapped numbers.Two days later, she called and invited me on a group playdate, and then on a Mum's night out. Through these connections, I tapped into the local community of fellow parents, and eventually made many other friends. But she remained my first friend, and over the three years has become the closest of everyone I've meet in America.
Our families, both lacking a local support network of parents and relatives, have been there for each other. When we had to move out of our tree-damaged house at short notice, her husband spent a whole day helping us to move our furniture, sweltering in the heat as we stuffed belongings into boxes. When she started working, and her small son seemed to be sick every day, I helped out and looked after him so that she could go to her new job.
In a few days time she is going back to Germany. I always knew this was on the cards - in fact, from the moment we met, she was telling me they were planning to go back (and I was always secretly quite pleased that it didn't seem to happen). After a while it became kind of a standing joke - they wanted to go back, but circumstances were preventing it, and we would probably go home before they did.
But now they really are going. And while there are promises to Skype, and we will definitely see them again, back in Europe, I know deep down it won't ever really be the same. We won't be phoning each other up on a whim to go to the local park or the pool for a playdate. We won't be taking a weekend trip to Fire Island, or meeting at the school concert, or in the supermarket by chance. When we meet, in at least a year's time, probably two, our children, who know each other so well, will probably eye each other suspiciously, and be shy for the first few hours. They'll reconnect eventually, but will have to say goodbye again all too quickly.
I know this is the nature of expat life. Growing up in Hong Kong, I had many friends who moved on after a couple of years, and while we promised to write letters, eventually these friends faded into distant, pleasant memories (although bizarrely, now, in the age of social media, I have met up with a few via Facebook). I'm realistic about that. I'm good at leaving (or at least, can be stoic about it).
But it doesn't make it any easier. This week, I feel as if my ground has shifted a little. The summer sun is still shining, and life is pretty good, but something's changed. And it reminds that, in a year's time, we'll be packing up and moving on too. Every sunset must be savoured before the world turns, once again.