There are a lot of firsts we look forward to as parents: first steps, first words, first day of school. There are others we dread, like the first solo driving trip, although le Petit still has many years to go before we confront that, thankfully. But there are also a whole lot of difficult firsts that don't even occur to us to worry about until we get there.
Today le Petit said goodbye to his first friend. Ever since I went back to work when he was nine months old, le Petit has spent four days a week in the care of his nanny and in the company of R, a little boy four months his junior. I've watched R progress from a baby-chair-bound infant to a determined crawler fighting back for the toys le Petit grabbed to the running, climbing, perfectly-matched playmate he is now. Watching them interact has fascinated me, for although they constantly steal each others' toys and wrestle each other to the ground, they do it with love. I'm not exaggerating. It is a sight to behold.
They've even developed their own language. Back when they were pre-verbal, they'd hold detailed discussions in squeals and coos. Now that they've both learned to speak, only one word of their primitive baby-speak remains: "ta-TA." That's how they still call for one another. "Il est où, ta-TA?" le Petit asked me this evening. "Ta-TA is right over there!" I told him, pointing to the corner where R was hiding. R ran up and yelled "ta-TA!" and gave le Petit a hug.
R's family is moving to Brussels, and today was the last day the two children will spend together. R's mother recently gave the nanny a disposable camera to take pictures of the kids during a typical day, and she brought me the prints today. In one shot the two boys are at the park, lined up together at the top of the slide. In another they are on either side of a miniature seesaw. In a third they are following each other across a rope bridge, wearing expressions as serious as if they were completing Army Basic Training. There are two pictures of them at home standing up in le Petit's crib, both shirtless. They're jumping on the mattress and smiling, though it looks a bit like an ultra-featherweight boxing match.
Over the last few weeks I've talked to le Petit about R's upcoming departure. I've told him that R and his family will be moving far away, where they'll have a nice, new house and be very happy, but R will be too far away to come and play with him every day. Le Petit listens but is too little to understand, of course.
"Bye-bye!" le Petit said brightly as R left with his mother and sister, just like on any other day. He gave everyone kisses as prompted. We promised to try and catch up with occasional play dates when R's family comes back to visit Paris, but I'm afraid that may not be as simple as it seems. I know that at first every time le Petit sees his nanny he'll ask about R. Then slowly he'll forget, and meet new children, until eventually his friendship with R is just a cute story that Mommy mentions from time.
Silly as it sounds, during many a recent night I've laid awake feeling sad about it. Le Petit will be just fine, of course, but when R's mother and I said "au revoir" tonight we both had tears in our eyes.