Tuesday, April 22, 2008

the wall

My reading is blurring with my real life, again. After seeing--what, four?--movies based on his books, I'm finally reading Dennis Lehane's Mystic River. I thought about his hard-ass working-class Boston characters today when I got to the playground with Adinah and V.

Deanie has taken to a new boy at kindergarten. His name is Manuel, and I've never really noticed him before, though as I watched them play together today, I could see that he's a sweet kid. But I kept my distance from Manuel's parents. I have noticed his father: a beefy, unsmiling guy who's always in a white baseball cap and white jacket with Formula 1 patches. Whenever I see him there, he looks uncomfortable and eager to get the hell out of the kindergarten. I've only become aware of Manuel's mom lately, probably because she's smiled at me once or twice. She looks washed-out, and too old for her age. All in all, somehow, they look like a family who don't have as much money as we do.

Which is weird, because aside from the fact that we're buying our apartment, Anette and I aren't exactly bathing in milk and honey these days. But there it is--they look different from us, so I presume they won't speak English, so I don't cross the playground to say hi, even as our kids tear up a significant chunk of the sandbox together. A "real,"or more precisely put, an easy conversation with them seems as impossible as one with the hard-knock-life housewives and ex-cons in my book. I feel a difference between me and them.

But not Adinah. She plays with the kids she likes. She isn't reading class yet. She plays with the Croatian kids of hairdressers and the Vienna-born kids of novelists. She doesn't feel the wall between her and the kids who live in the Gemeindebau super blocs. I envy her. I hate these lines that separate us. But of course I honor them too.

And I know that unless I make some effort to talk to/deal with/break through to people who are different from us, Adinah will be acting like me soon enough.

That's more than a little fucked up.


Snooker said...

Perhaps knowing that the walls are in the way is the first step to figuring out a way to look over them.
One step at a time.
Best of luck.

Elizabeth said...

You know, it ain't necessarily so. My mother, though lovely in many ways, is very class aware and snobbish. But my brothers and I aren't. It's just the way we came. We take enough pleasure in talking to just about anyone, that it overwhelms those social differences. So, who knows? Maybe, as a teen, she'll be ripping up the sandbox, as it were, with her working class hoodlum boyfriend, and you'll wish she was more like you....

More and more, this is the kicker about parenthood; we feel the weight of too much power at some times, and the fear of total impotence at others. And still, they do whatever the hell they want to do.

How's it going with V?

pat said...

Snooker, that's what I'm hoping and that's what I need to work on. Thanks.
Elizabeth: I know what you mean. And the fact that humans can be who they are at such a young age is a miracle.
V. is doing well, thank you. I've been on child care leave from work and getting to know her much better. I think she's starting to feel safe with us.
How are you and yours?
Best, P.

Tricia said...

Hi Pat!

Donna turned me on to your blog, and I have been enjoying it very much. She said I should come here and tell you to go read mine! It's triciamitchell.blogspot.com.

I loved your post about class. It's so much the kind of thing I think about.

The important thing, in my mind, is how we help our kids make sense of "walls". I wonder what would happen if you had a conversation with her where you mentioned the things that kept you from chatting with her friend's parents--like being self-conscious about the language barrier, like thinking you might not have something to talk about, like wishing the grownup had a sandbox, too, so conversation wouldn't be such a very important point for connection. I wonder what she would say. In our family, we always come back to the truism, "Aren't people so funny?"

pat said...

Hey, Trish Mitchell! Double bonus pleasure to hear from you--a surprise voice from out of the past, and writing with such a nice, insightful comment, too! People are funny indeed, and maybe I'll ask Manuel's parents if they want to sit in the sandbox with me and the kids next time.
I hope you'll drop by and say hi again soon, T. I'm headed over to yourn blog now.....

more cowbell said...

We all hope we wouldn't honor those walls, but I think we all do. Years of living overseas, being the one who wasn't fluent, the one who made the conversation difficult, left me very aware of that, and I consciously try to NOT be that way to the english language learners here. So I get this idea of myself that I'm not "that way". But then one day I'll catch myself giving a nice smile and just looking away. So easy to slip into that behavior, to forget what it's like to be the one being looked away from.

Elizabeth is right -- parenthood is sometimes too much power and other times helplessness. And yes, they do "whatever they feel like!" to quote my middle hellion.

I like Tricia's idea of the adult sandbox.