Sunday, 15 January 2017

My Daughter Losing a Best Friend Means I’m Losing a Daughter, Too

My daughter's best friend's family is moving to a different town, and I am going to miss her. 

My daughter is 10 years old, and she has a best friend. Every day they walk home together from school. Almost every day, M comes home with Y alongside her, and they do their homework together, sit side by side on the couch reading for hours on end or at the table playing cards. They splash together in our little pool and play silly games. Each of them is the others go-to person if they are bored. Y is used to my daughter’s occasional tempers and waits patiently for her to snap out of them if they happen while she's around, while my daughter knows when Y will feel shy and how to make her feel comfortable. They share secret words and funny nicknames.

But this is the thing: Y is more than 'just' my daughter's best friend. We recognise her schoolbag in the hallway and her shoes on the stairs. We know which foods she likes and what games she likes to play. My younger son treats Y like another older sister; she helps him with his homework, and he shouts at her not to tell him the answers just like with his real older sister. Once I was coming in from picking up Son from school, and we passed M with Y just walking home. The girls said goodbye to each other and separated to their own homes, and Son said 'Where's Y going?" 

“She’s going home,” M answered.
“Why?” wondered my son.
But now, Y’s family is moving away.
This is going to be hard for us in many ways. This family has always been very involved in our community, and by moving, there will be a huge gap in our midst. Y’s mother is my friend, and I will miss her. My husband and I know that we will have to support our daughter with “losing” her best friend.
When you are 10, having your best friend move away is a catastrophe, and a real loss. We tell M that she can call and talk to Y all the time, and they can email, and visit for sleepovers, but all of the adults know that at this age, a friendship is not the same when the kids can’t see each other every day. We know (and they know) that they are each losing their best friend.

And Y won’t be our bat bayit any more, either. I have to talk about it in terms of my daughter missing her friend and that I will miss mine, but the truth is that there is more than the one loss going on. bat bayit is one of those phrases which is somewhat untranslatable in English. Literally, it means “a daughter of the house.” But in Israel, it’s an expression that’s used to define a different kind of family member. It’s not the same as an adopted child, because Y has her own family who love her very much (and won’t let us kidnap her and keep her when they move away). Bat bayit also doesn’t quite have the same connotations as “surrogate child,” either. The nearest I can come to defining it is to say that Y has become something of an extra daughter and sister in our family, in a way which is separate from my friendship with her mother. We are used to having her around. My sons are used to having her around. We all treat her as one of the family.
We've had our fair share of bnei bayit, it has to be said. Special individuals who have come into our lives and made themselves at home here. They build their own relationships with our children and with us, and learn their way around our kitchen. Sooner or later they leave for university, get married, or in some way or another move on or move away. Each time, we know that we have no claim on our bnei bayit like we have on our real children. They are part of our family because they chose to be, and unlike with our own children, when they leave us they can move entirely out of our lives. Each time, it is a little bit of a loss. Each time, we wave them off knowing that they may never really be in touch and the relationship will probably fizzle out, even though they think that it isn't likely. But we - and our children - gain so much from these bnei bayit that it is worth the sadness. 

I don’t think I realized until now how much our children bring new special people into our lives. Only now that our children are old enough to have friends who spend long periods of time in our home, do I really see it, and possibly only because we’re losing one of them.
It’s often said that your friends are the family that you choose for yourself. There needs to be another line in that saying; perhaps, “your children’s friends are the family that your children choose for you.”

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