Sunday, May 5, 2013

Living in Suburbia with a Sociable Child

I was interviewed this afternoon for a potential "featurette" or some such thing in a local fitness magazine. They're planning a Fathers' Day theme for their June issue and are focusing on my stay-at-home dads' group. The focus is dads staying fit with their kids. Or something.

With my up-and-down weight loss/gain history, I'm probably not the best guy to interview about staying fit, and I found myself answering her questions about how the group has affected my life with how I've learned to be more sociable and open to strangers. Much of that has to do with Thumper and his love of talking to anyone and everyone more than it has to do with the group, but some of it is related to meeting new people with a common thread to their choices and lifestyles. There is value in relationships developing from the "we are pre-made friends because we belong to the same group, so we might as well talk to each other" aspect of strangers coming together because of similar choices.

Perhaps some of it is living in a neighborhood with a relatively high percentage of resident owners vs. rental properties, where the same people see each other over the years walking, driving, checking the mail, swimming at the neighborhood pool. Perhaps some of it is Thumper entering the school system, and parents seeing each other again and again at school drop off and pick up, volunteering, and other school events.

But honestly, with no disrespect to friends and neighbors: I sometimes miss the complete anonymity of living childless in Boston. For my morning commute, I would put on headphones and sunglasses, put my nose in a book, and have absolutely zero expectation of engaging in small talk with strangers on the subway. I would go to the grocery store and never run into friends of friends or acquaintances. I was invisible, unknown, anonymous, and it felt safe. Secure.

It could be lonely, too.

Now I have friends, neighbors, acquaintances. I have a network of people that I sometimes help and that sometimes help me. We share childcare. Our kids play together in backyards and playgrounds. We get together for potlucks, drink beer, and watch our kids ride bikes and play the didgeridoo.

Well, OK, that didgeridoo thing's only happened once. So far.

Looking back on the play group, and the journey so far with my son who is so much more outgoing and confident than I remember being when I was a child, I've moved quite a distance from the awkward 13-year-old who was sure that everyone else in school was working with a script that he never received. I chat with strangers at the park. I make small talk with friends in the grocery store parking lot. I introduce my wife to the parents of Thumper's classmates that we run into at the pool, and my heart doesn't stop, the world doesn't end, I only want to hide a little bit, and everything is pretty much all right.

Invisible still appeals to me, though.

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