On Saturday I met a neighbor at the Reston Town Center for a show by the excellent kids rock band, Rocknoceros. The Town Center often has kids and family events. The funny thing was, my neighbor and I kind of met there by chance. My family’s plans to go out of town changed at the last minute and I remember my neighbor saying she was going to the show. So I went, hoping to find her. We actually parked next to one another. It worked out for a lovely morning; however, I was surprised we connected because we both have busy lives.
I recently read a blog post about “why our parents put us to shame” – that is, that our parents approached child rearing without being bogged down with all the hoopla that is 21st century parenting. The hoopla being technology, work/life balance struggles, and seemingly limitless choices for extra curricular activities. (The New York Times just published an article on family happiness and the overbooked child.)
I’d add to that list the acceptance of a busyness in our culture which makes it difficult – and at times even impossible – to interact in a meaningful way with neighbors, other families around town and friends. Busyness sometimes leads to rudeness, as time wasted on seemingly unnecessary tasks in a chock full schedule can be annoying. In fact, I just read about a survey that shows that Americans are getting ruder. (And when it comes to interacting with people from banks or health care companies, or taking care of other administrative chores, I have to mentally prepare myself to get through the tedious task. I won’t go into detail about how I think these groups treat their customers like dishonest or faceless people, forcing me to become ruder by the second as I wait on hold after punching in my choices on the phone.)
And maybe it’s not just the busyness. Perhaps it’s that we have such far-reaching social networks. So when you gather friends, there’s the person from your last job, the person you met at the park and the person you met through a friend at dinner three years ago. There’s no real clique or close knit circle. We’ve each got our circles of friends, but they hardly overlap. Perhaps some have it, but this has been a struggle for me since about the seventh grade. I used to be excited to bring together new people, but now I see it as less quality time with people I know I’ll see often, and want to build relationships with. Lately, I am wondering about that whole “it takes a village to raise a child“, since we all seem to operate on the schedule that works best for ourselves, and can’t – or are unwilling – to change our schedule to accomodate others.
I’m starting to see a little hope here, though: on Friday night we had the fourth summer neighborhood happy hour in my area, where about 12 families attended. And I knew most people! Our neighborhood is also having a pumpkin growing contest with a fall harvest party to, again, get together and enjoy each other’s company. I think that knowing my neighbors and committing time to spend together – and seeing others do the same – is really heartening. I’ve also seen that as Bug is more mobile and interactive, she herself is engaging with people. Like someone walking a dog who stops to let Bug pet it, or a truck driver on our street who laughs at Bug pointing excitedly at the 18-wheeler coming her way. Maybe those glimmers of humanity will endure as our world becomes more complex, but ever in need of personal interaction. So if you see me around town or we are at the same playdate, excuse me if I want to interact with you – I think you are worth bothering.