Mysteries of the Park

Mysteries of the Park

I, like many other parents, enjoy taking my little one down to the park when the weather is nice. What awaits us there, however, has become a puzzle for me. Allow me to explain.

Our neighborhood is made up of primarily Polish residents, with a few Mexican households rounding out the rest of the homes around ours. After taking five years of Spanish in school, I was sort of looking forward to getting to know our neighbors and maybe getting to brush up on the language a bit. My mother-in-law is Polish (though doesn’t speak much of it other than food and hilarious curse words), as is my Aunt Cathy (weird, they’re both named Cathy! I just now realized this!), so I was also excited to possibly learn more about the Polish culture and pick up some vernacular there. Neither of those dreams came to fruition as most everyone here keeps to themselves. Our elderly Polish neighbor on the right side of the house, Alexandra, likes to comment on my hair or weight and feed copious amounts of table scraps to our dog, but that’s about the extent of our exchanges. Our Mexican neighbors on the other side have a three-flat and throw parties or garage sales over there a lot, but we’ve really only had interactions with them once or twice. We’ve lived in our house for almost six years. I call that shameful, being raised in the south and all. I really hoped we’d have neighbor friends. When we first moved to Chicago, I made brownies for the couple that lived across the hall from us in our apartment building. They silently returned the tupperware with a thank you note and never made eye contact with me again. Sigh. Big City Living, I guess.

Anyway, down the street from our house is a park. They just redid the playground with Rahm Emmanuel’s “Chicago Plays!” initiative, and with a son just now the right age to play on the playground, I’m grateful! So, Ryan and I often walk the dog and the baby down to the park, and sometimes I take Harrison by myself. Harrison is a swingset type of guy, so we mostly hang out there, but sometimes we explore a little, or sit and have a snack.

The other day it was sunny, beautiful weather, and I HAD to get out of the house. We went down to the park and a handful of people were there with their children. I was feeling a little down. Lonely, really, and could’ve used a nice interaction that wasn’t part of Sesame Street. I looked around. I saw two moms sitting together, and as I got closer, heard them speaking Polish at a furious pace. Nope, not interrupting all that. I saw a woman holding one side of the seesaw while her son jumped fruitlessly, sitting on the other end. She didn’t make eye contact with me, but after her son had given up his efforts, she sat on the bottom of the slide nearby and sort of sighed. I almost approached her, but I stopped myself. Would she want to talk to me? Did she come to the park to have some quiet time? Would I be like that person who sits next to you on an airplane and doesn’t see you’re holding your finger in your book, waiting for them to shut up? Would she speak English? Many of the Polish-speaking residents around us speak only Polish and either won’t respond in English, or will look very annoyed if they must. The grocery store across the street is like visiting a foreign country. All the store announcements are in Polish. They could be saying the place is on fire and I’d have no idea. I once asked a lady who helped me translate at the deli counter if it’s very hard to learn Polish. She said, “…Don’t.”

 

Over by the big kid swings was a dad and a gaggle of older kids, all very busy with a heated sports discussion of some sort while they jumped on the platforms for the new zip line (which I recently tried out and it’s AWESOME). A mom with a stroller walked past me and rounded the corner, only to walk about ten laps around the park at a brisk pace and then split. If I could’ve caught up with her, we might’ve chatted, but I’ll be honest–I probably would’ve been out of breath! So I gave up my efforts to make a new neighborhood friend and Harrison and I went home. The whole way, though, I thought about this. Is it the language barrier that keeps me from being more outgoing? Is it my blue and turquoise hair that makes me unapproachable? Am I afraid I’ll annoy someone by starting up a conversation? Is everyone supposed to just be watching their own kids and not fraternizing? Do other parents make parent friends at the park? I’m probably overthinking this. Maybe I’ve been cooped up in the house for so long that I’m completely introverted now. Nah, that’s not it. There’s got to be something I’m not thinking of–some piece to this puzzle. Maybe it’s just that this isn’t the south and people are more likely to keep to themselves. Growing up in Florida, I made friends everywhere! The beach, the park, the pool–have voice and smile, will befriend! We knew most of our neighbors, especially during tough times like hurricanes and such, and knew who to stay away from as well. Perhaps it’s just that after six years in this house, I thought our neighborhood would be full of stories of the families that live around us and we’d know them all. I thought as we had kids, our neighbors with kids would want to get together. I thought we’d have people over from down the street when we barbecued. Alas, that’s not my neighborhood—and I have to be okay with that. Maybe as Harrison gets older and branches out from the baby swings, I’ll get a little more extroverted and we’ll make new friends together. That will be an interesting day.

 

Until next time… “No one is so rich as to throw away a friend!”

 

 

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