My nine-year-old son James* and his bestie Liam* have been friends since they sat in the sandpit together when they were two years old at daycare. We have photos of them dressed as reindeer together at Christmas concerts, videos of them doing the hokey-pokey, and have hosted countless play dates and sleep overs.
Over the past seven years, I've become good friends with Liam's parents too. We've had barbecues, shared bottles of wine and talked for hours, with our relationship going beyond that polite parent chat, but never quite extending to a friendship that can exist independent of our sons wanting to hang out.
And hang out they have, constantly, for the past seven years. But now, something has changed. It's not as dramatic as a big fight or someone doing anything wrong (that I know of), it's just…a shift.
James came home from school the other day, telling me that he was allowed to write down three friends' names on a piece of paper, and the school would make sure at least one of them was in his class next year. (I don't envy the enrolment officer's work there!)
"That's great," I said, "Who did you pick?"
"Joe, Declan and Sebastian," he replied.
"What, no Liam?" I asked, surprised.
James shrugged, "Nah."
When I asked what was going on, James was vague and philosophical.
"We just don't hang out as much as we used to, and I want to give other kids a chance to be friends and see how we get along."
"Did something happen?" I pushed. "Did you boys have a fight?"
"Nah, we just like doing different things," James said.
"Like what?" I asked.
"Well," he said, "I like playing handball at lunchtime."
"What does Liam do?" I asked.
James shrugged again. "Dunno. Not handball."
The whole thing seemed just so easy and uncomplicated to James. And, while I was impressed with his maturity and openness to making new friends, this sudden rift concerned me.
Not for James – he seemed totally fine. But for me.
Liam's parents and I have grown together. We've navigated daycare, kindy and half of primary school. We've gone through the hard work of breaking through the polite parent chit-chat to becoming actual friends.
I've grown attached!
But now, it feels like it was all for nothing. Like Sisyphus pushing that boulder up a hill, only to have it roll down and him having to start again, so it is with parent friendships.
I'm preparing myself to say goodbye to this set of friends, and bracing myself for more polite chit-chat as I break in a new set of parents – or maybe two – as James become late primary school friends with Joe or Declan or Sebastian.
I know lots of people who are still friends with those kids they formed a bond with in late primary school, so this feels important. Especially considering James is basing his friendship decisions on whether or not someone likes handball.
But these could be the friends that sometimes stick for a lifetime – best man at his wedding, godfather of his first child, the one who bails him out when he gets arrested in Bali – so it feels important.
(I'll try not to lead with that when I meet them though – I'll probably just offer them a pikelet and ask them what sport they like.)
I'm already sure I won't like them as much as Liam.
*Names have been changed because my son and I have different surnames and I try hard not to be that embarrassing mum.