Friday, August 28, 2009

Other People and Their Stories

Every morning I'd get back from my laps and I'd see her, the mom with the baby in the stroller doing her daily walk around the neighborhood. We'd wave, two moms in shorts and tees, sweaty and a little red in the face from the exertion and heat. Me, unencumbered, she, pushing the stroller.

Child in stroller is such a stage and age. Any parent knows it.

When I had my first baby the awesome commonwealth of Massachusetts offered a lovely one year postpartum support and parenting program in the form of a mom-and-me program once a week at the education building adjacent to our local hospital. It was, of course, free. I came for one "give it a shot" group and stayed for the whole year and beyond. In my memory, when I pushed a stroller around the neighborhood, I always had at least one mom from a community of these moms with me.

One time I walked with another mom on a gorgeous path through a park and her son reached out and held my daughter's hand. They were six months old.

One time the stroller mom walked past me as I headed in to the house and as I waved I had this compulsion to ask her if she ever wanted to walk together. Then I thought twice.

Where once upon a time, that walking time was communal time, now it is solo time for me. I listen to my music or podcasts and simply am -- just me, just doing my thing, not serving anyone. I am no longer a stroller mom. I push my children in other ways, now.

Anyway, I don't know her story. She looks content as she walks and she has never reached out to me beyond that wave. She never even hesitates or pauses, never lets her eyes linger as I stand still in my drive, my walking finished.

In the evening I often share other people and their stories with my husband. As a commuter worker, it is often his only connection with the people we know in our community.

I have the G-rated stories that I tell him at dinner or while the kids are around.

"H, C, and K are in class together this year," I'll share, "I bet they like that since they all know each other and it's their first year in elementary school."

Then there are the PG-13 and up tales. Things I save to relate until after the kids are in bed.

". . .she went through all that and then the client didn't even pay. I don't know what gets in people's heads!"

". . .but she seems pretty sure that they'll go from separation to divorce. The daughter told Patience, and I found myself trying to explain why some moms and dads can't stay married. The thing is, I had no answer for any of her questions."

Sometimes, we know just enough of other people's stories to be a menace. Sometimes we know not enough at all. Sometimes it seems as if it's a road game -- we're in cars sharing the road together. I know what kind of car you have and the color, but I don't know why you bought it or its relative value in your life. I think I know who you are by how you drive, but it's always so much more complicated than that. But as we speed down the street, we really are in a game of defense, and we haven't the time to try to think more deeply about who our fellow drivers are and what their stories are.

Once upon a time it seemed like I asked more. I recall many times being rebuked by others for doing so, "Julie! Those lane lines are there for a reason! You need to stay in your own lane!"

Eventually, I have.

I wonder if that pleases them, now.

Me? I'm more like the guy I met not too long ago in the airport. Circumstance had us trapped for a while, so we made the best of it chatting, instead of drawing solid white lines through iPods and books. (And I confess to being quite adept at drawing those solid white lines, often enough.)

We veered from one crazy story to another. In the end, one hour's talk had me knowing a lot about his verbs, even if I didn't know so much about his nouns.

I said, "I didn't really fear for our lives, but there is definitely something about being stopped by rebels with machine guns and bribing yourself away from them with wristwatches."

"I'd never thought about going to Central America for that reason," he said, "But my wife does really want to go to Egypt, in theory."

"Morocco is on that list for me," I said, "Although to tell the truth I really think the coolest trip would be going from the Mayan pyramids to the Egyptian ones, back to back. What a basis for comparison."

"We did go to Mexico," he said, "But you can't believe what happened there..."

As we queued up to board the plane and got back into our own lanes, he said, "I haven't had a talk like this since college!"

I smiled in understanding and shared enjoyment. We had even attracted other passengers who moved out of their lanes to join ours.

Sometimes there is something to be said about merging. Sometimes there is something to be said about abandoning mature respect for lines and lanes.

3 comments:

MommyTime said...

I find his last comment illuminating, though not that surprising on reflection. In college, we had those talks all the time, for two reasons I think. First, we were still trying to figure out what our lanes were, which meant we had to do an awful lot of exploring around, painting, repainting, tinkering with the lane lines and parameters. Hence, real conversations. Also, in college, there was the potential "what if he/she is THE ONE?" to contend with -- and all that really trying to get to know each other makes for wonderful, authentic conversation. As "adults," once we've found our lanes, and our partners in them, we have less need for the exploration. And I think there is a stretch of time where there is the fear of being misunderstood, the "if I talk to a member of the opposite sex 'in THAT way,' will he/she misunderstand and think I'm flirting?" But we get to a point, and I think I'm just reaching it too, where we are secure enough in the roles we have carved out for ourselves that exploration can be interesting without being threatening. I think it's still too easy NOT to do what you just did. But I also know that the best friends I've made in the last few years have been because I have not stopped at the acceptable lines, but have been insistent about jumping into their lives (or they into mine). I have never regretted doing so, which I think means I should do so more often. Thanks for that reminder.

Momish said...

I agree! As an avid taker, I am all for merging and even car pooling! I like the idea that you knew a lot about that man's "verbs" if not about his "nouns". That's a great way to discribe those brief connections, which are true and real connections. Something lacking in life sometimes, especially I find as I grow older and more detatched from those small opportunities where I could really connect.

Nicole B. said...

loved this!