November 13, 2010

Nearly snowbound

I grew up on a cul-de-sac where the kids were plentiful, the parents were friendly, and everyone knew one another.

There was no need to make plans. On a summer afternoon, I could step outside and find a cadre of playmates riding bikes. In the evening, we'd go door to door rounding up kids for a game of ditch -"Psst... Meet at sunset. Wear black. Tell your brother."

I've always wanted to raise my kids in the same kind of neighborhood, the kind of place where I could set vague rules like "Be home before dark" and trust they were safe. The kind of place where neighbor kids might wander into my house and I would feed them pizza rolls and let them play on our swingset and send them off with friendly greetings for their mothers.

If only it were so easy.

My house and those immediately surrounding it are 17 years old. Our cul-de-sac was full of young families and little kids in the 90s, and now those kids are teenagers or young adults and their parents are nearing retirement. In order to meet other young families and potential playmates, we have to venture beyond our front porch, out of the cul-de-sac, and onto another street.

I hate initiating social contact with people I don't know. I panic, I freeze, I regress into the most awkward version of myself from adolescence. Most days, I'd rather stick a sharp object in my eye than knock on someone's door and introduce myself.

I did exactly that a few weeks ago. I introduced myself to a perfect stranger in my neighborhood and arranged a playdate for our preschoolers. For a week, I was exuberant. I was proud of myself for setting my own baggage aside to do something for my kid. I was excited to meet another mom and potentially make a friend for myself.

The day arrived, I called to confirm plans, and the other mom didn't answer. I left a message that she didn't return. I called again. I took Evie to the park anyway, hoping against hope that she would show up. For a few days, I thought she might call me with an apology or explanation: She lost her phone, she had a last-minute something or other... I would have accepted anything.

Maybe she decided that it was weird for me to introduce myself like that, and to presume that just because we were neighbors, we should be friends. Maybe, in those few moments we chatted, I offended her in some way. Maybe she was abducted by aliens. I don't know, and I may never find out.

That awkward adolescent voice inside me said: "This is what happens when you put yourself out there. It's not worth it."

The day I took Evie to the park for the failed playdate, we met a dad with a 4-year-old girl. The two preschoolers started playing together immediately, climbing the playground equipment and talking about princesses. We left with an invitation to the girl's birthday party.

Today, we all went to the party, despite a snowstorm that dumped 6 inches of wet, heavy snow upon us. Perhaps a wiser person would have stayed home due to the storm, but I wanted to be bold. I wanted to believe that there are people in my neighborhood who could share a connection with me and my children.

We got stuck, we missed turns, we lost traction many times. The drive was only 3 blocks, but it was an expedition.

Once there, we had a nice time getting to know a family whom we hope to see again. The many neighbors who helped Sam push the car reminded us that this is a friendly place to live, even if we don't have friends yet.

I wish that making friends was effortless, like opening the door and stepping outside. Sometimes it's grueling, like charging down unplowed streets in a Prius, but we push forth anyway - hoping that, in the end, the journey will prove to be worthwhile.

1 comment:

annie said...

it feels as if i am reading a small story from my own life with this piece. i should call rick's attention to it to help verify that i am not the only one with these paralyzing social issues. i say "bravo!" to you for charging forth with the playground date and the snowy birthday party. and keep writing... maybe i'll find the gumption to take after your lead one of these days!