Friday, September 17, 2004

Confessions of a Neighborhood Snob

One of the reasons among many that I want to move to Portland is that, in many neighborhoods, there are lots of families in close proximity. I went to the park by my IL's house and immediately struck up a 1/2 hour conversation with a nice ER doc and his 1-yr-old son. Turned out we had a lot in common, including years spent living in Berkeley. When starting his family, he chose to move to Portland because it felt more family-friendly than the Bay Area. This view seems to be supported by Cafe Mama, a Portland blog I have been frequenting. However, I'm afraid that what it really means is that there are more upper-middle-class, college-educated professionals than in my current city.

Ick. This has rocked my view of myself. I've always been very supportive of multiculturalism, diversity and the like. I believe racism is taught and modeled, and I don't want that around my kids. And my town, I seem to think I can't relate to any of the parents around here. I just haven't connected with any parents around here. But I'm afraid I'm being a complete snob. Do I judge them for the broken-down station wagons in their front yards? Or the kids running around without any sort of adult supervision? There are lots of kids I recognize in the neighborhood and I even know the names of some, but darned if I know what their parents look like. And I've lived here 4 years.

I belong to a great playgroup that grew out of an new mom's support group, but it's 30 miles away, in a more expensive area, so it's not conducive to spur-of-the-moment playdates or coffee chats. At the same time, I don't exactly fit in on the playgrounds to the east, where the really rich people live. My teeth aren't white enough, my skin isn't tan enough, my hair isn't highlighted enough and I don't own enough Polo by Ralph Lauren. Besides, they always travel in packs, those mothers.

I decided I was being close-minded about my city and vowed to look at the parents at the local playground with new eyes. The next time A and I trekked to a playground, I found a bench full of older Sikh men having some kind of rousing conversation in what might have been Punjabi. Two teens showed up with a cute, very active little girl. She was calling one of them "Mama" so I asked that teen how old she was. Turns out she was just a week older than A. We commented briefly on her rather frightening climbing ability (A still climbs up stairs on his hands and knees and absolutely cannot figure out how to climb up rungs on the equipment, which is just fine with me). That was about the extent of the conversation, since Mama was 17 years old at the most, and I'm being generous. If I had to bet, I'd guess she was about 15 years old. She seemed sweet enough, but I just didn't see us getting together for coffee.

Later, another mom came by with a baby. The baby's father arrived and I guessed they were Tongan. We swung our kids in the baby swings for a while and I tried to start a conversation with the standard, "How old is yours?" She responded hesitantly in English. I commented on the amazing amount of teeth the baby had (compared to A who was still all gums at his first birthday). She smiled and nodded but didn't say anything and I smiled and nodded back while my heart sank.

What makes friends? I think there is usually some common ground, and living in the same city isn't enough. If you're thrown together with someone, like at work or school or the hurricane shelter, you can search for the common ground and usually find it, I think. I'm glad A already sees and interacts with many cultures. I like that there's evidence all around that people worship God differently, and not everyone lives the same way. But am I awful for wishing I could find someone more like me to talk to at the playground?


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