“So how was school today, any news?” I asked, as I turned the key in the ignition.
“Mum, I think Emily is moving to Wexford. She wasn’t supposed to tell me, so don’t say it to her mum if you see her at the school. Maybe you can ask her how she is and see if she says it?”
I looked in the rearview mirror and saw Clara’s wide grey eyes fill with tears as she told me her news in a quiet voice, trying to keep it steady. I turned off the engine and turned, awkwardly reaching between the seats to hug her, as my heart sank.
In junior infants, Clara and Emily had been to one another’s houses on playdates, and this fledgling friendship had grown during the first couple of months of senior infants. They had become self-proclaimed “best friends”. And though she’s possibly a little young for a “best friend”, I was secretly delighted. Clara gets on well with all of the girls in her class but I sense that she gravitates towards having a smaller number of close friends rather than being the centre of every game and every conversation.
I’m not the only parent who is focused on whether or not her child is making friends – most of the mums at my school-gate say that their top question during our recent parent-teacher meetings was “Is my daughter settling well, does she have friends?” Reading and writing will come – for now we all just want to make sure our children are happy and have someone to play with at yard-time.
So Emily moving to Wexford was not good news. Over the subsequent weeks, there was a confirmation of the move, a final playdate and then a hot chocolate outing after school on the last day, to say goodbye.
It reminds me very much of my own experience aged six – we moved house and I said goodbye to my then best-friend. I still remember her name, and indeed her full address – we stayed in contact by writing letters for ten years after the move. Then as tends to happen, the gaps between the letters became longer and longer. But a decade after the move, that was fine. Anyway, I had another, much more upheaving move to deal with; a familial upping of sticks from Cork to Dublin, just as I entered my teens.
Oh the horror.
The fear (“But Dublin is near the North – what if we get bombed dad?”).
The upset. The plans to chain ourselves to the bannisters.
The note I left under the carpet for the new owners, telling them that they should really think long and hard before ever changing “my” bedroom walls and floor, because purple is a great colour.
The devastation saying goodbye to school-friends and home-friends.
The promise to return every single weekend.
The sworn oath to move back upon turning sixteen. On the very day.
And the letters – we would write a lot of letters. It was 1987 so letter-writing was big. We all had pen-pals in France and Africa and Norway already. So now we’d write to one another, every day. It would be easy – we’d be too miserable missing each other to do anything else. We just needed fancy paper and lots of stamps.
And we did – we wrote pages and pages and pages. I wrote to my Cork friends every week, filling them in on every tiny detail of my new life in Dublin – not that I’d be staying in the capital. Not long to go until that sixteenth birthday, and I’d be straight on that bus.
Needless to say, I’m still here in Dublin. I think on my sixteenth birthday I was busy trying to get into “Hollywood Nights” with fake ID, and forgot to catch the bus to Cork.
We wrote letters for many years, but as before, the gaps between our gossip-filled tomes increased, and eventually the correspondence stopped. And not in a sad way – just in the way that these things do.
For Clara and Emily, it’s a little different of course – now we have Skype and Facetime and multiple ways of corresponding – no stamp required.
And though they’re too young for mobile phones and Facebook, these media provide an easy means for us mothers to stay in touch; to help the girls to remain connected; at least until they are both settled without one another, and able to deal with drifting apart.
This afternoon, we set up a first Skype call for them. Don’t you just love modern technology!
I missed the first call, and couldn’t figure out how to call back, then successfully picked up the second incoming call. Emily and her mum could hear us but could not see us. We could see them but could not hear them. We communicated this key information by text. The kids were getting exasperated. So we closed the iPads and used mobile phones instead. Coverage in my house isn’t great, and I’m not sure how super it was in Emily’s new house in Wexford, either so there were technical obstacles.
Clara spent the first five minutes shouting “Hello! Hello! Emily can you hear me? Hello?” while her friend did the same. We finally got a rhythm going where they could hear about half of what was being said, when they weren’t talking over each other.
This is a snippet from their conversation:
Emily: I live in a bungalow now!
Clara: You live in a bunk-bed now? That’s so cool!
Emily: My teacher is called Ms. Heavey
Clara: Your teacher is called Ms. TV?
Emily: I got Playmobil for Christmas
Clara: You got Play-what?
Emmie, listening in, interjects in an exasperated tone: She got Playmobil Clara, Playmobil.
Eventually, Clara said “You know what Emily, maybe we should write down everything that happens to us and put it in a letter and post it to each other, what do you think?”
I might invest in some fancy paper.