In days of yore, a friend moving away was a definite and demarcated end to things. Back in 1976, when I was in Grade one, I had a friend called Cameron who I played with regularly at recess, and a few times after school. But, then he moved away, and that was that. I just didn’t see him anymore. It was as if the very earth swallowed him up.
As it was so long ago, I can’t remember his last name. So, even finding him on Facebook isn’t really feasible. Too much time has passed. At the time, I remember not wanting to see him go, and anticipating the void his absence would create. But, what could I do? I just had to accept it. And I had to accept that it could happen again, to any one of the people I knew. And it certainly did. Pretty soon, such as thing came to be expected. There are friends and other classmates I had growing up that just dropped off somewhere; one year they were there, and the next they weren’t. In many cases, I can’t even remember exactly when they were out of my life. I myself moved schools after grade 9, leaving people behind me that I’d known since kindergarten, and many of whom I’ve never seen since. It was like moving to another planet.
But, that was then.
One of the Girl’s playmates is moving to England – the Isle of Wight to be exact. To maximize their time together, “playdates” have been arranged, so that they can squeeze out the last of their facetime together. They will miss each other of course. Children operate best when there is a routine to count on. And a part of the routine is seeing people every day, not to mention the love that grows between friends at any age. That much has not changed.
But, this is the 21st century.
One of the first things she and I did recently was to go to Google maps to find the Isle of Wight. When I was seven, if I’d had the presence of mind to ask Cameron where he was moving to, I could have consulted an atlas, or a road map, to find out where he was going to be living in relation to me. But I couldn’t virtually explore the street he was going to live on, or find out what colour his front door was going to be. Also, we didn’t have “playdates” arranged in 1976, unless it was us who arranged them (it was called “calling on” someone, which was just another way of saying we’d walk or ride our bikes to their house and knock on their door). Also, our parents didn’t really get involved in our personal relationships in the way that happens today. So, his parents and mine never really collaborated on helping us stay in touch. It was a different time.
But yesterday, the Girl and I explored the Isle of Wight together using Google Street Maps. She now has a pretty good idea of where her friend is going to live, and what his surroundings will be. She also has a basic idea of how far away the Isle of Wight is from where she lives. Further, she and her friend will have Skype, and (eventually) email and social media platforms at their disposal. There are channels to connection which they can use, with the help (initially) of their parents. It is possible that the changes that will occur over the years in each of their lives can in fact still be shared between them, despite a continent and an ocean that stands in their way. Whether this will actually happen is entirely another matter. But, the possibility remains to be a far more accessible one than ever before.
To the seven year old in me (he’s still there!), this is amazing.
It’s hard to say how far ahead the Girl’s generation on the whole will be on this score compared to how things have been for mine. Maybe with greater availability of connections, maybe geographical shifts aren’t going to be a barrier as they once were. Or maybe it will be easier for people of the Girl’s generation to take their connections for granted and let them go, since the stakes at a friend moving away aren’t as high. Who knows?
But, however things unfold she’ll have a few forces to draw upon. One will be her parents who will help her to stay connected as long as she wants to be, until she can manage it on her own. And another will be channels that just weren’t around when her parents were her age.
This is how it should be of course. Because a parent’s dream is mostly about helping to open up the possibilities for their children. To help her stay in touch with her friend, and not having the earth swallow him up is just another form of that in the end.