One of the beautiful things in life, from where I stand, are those moments when you finally get to see a person for who they are –especially when who they are inside is beautiful. A sense of clarity comes over you, and you find yourself thinking, hey, I see you from the inside out. As opposed to just seeing what lies on the outside, which for as much as we allow ourselves to believe is the person, really is not.
I had this type of beautiful experience this weekend, on Saturday, when I got to socialize with my neighbors, Yulio and Natalie, who are from Venezuela, for the first time since they moved next door roughly three years ago. Three years! It took us three years to find an opportunity to start getting to know each other. During that time though, they have always been friendly to us and us to them. Our children always get along great whenever they run into each other, on the rare occasion that that happens, in spite of the year difference in age (their son is five).
See, it wasn’t for lack of wanting to know them. But several other elements came into play. First, both Yulio and Natalie work full-time while their little boy is in day care. Second, like all parents, when employment responsibilities arn’t making demands of your time, the needs of your child, home, and each other are. Third, we live in a neighborhood where most of the residents keep very much to themselves. So, much like us, Natalie and Yulio adapted to this, and kept to themselves for a long while. Of course the busyness of life is a natural killer of social lives, too.
In any case, just shortly before 2 p.m., we arrived back home from our weekly feels-like-the-apocalypse grocery run. My daughter wanted to hang out on her own on our deck. Neither my husband or myself saw a reason why she couldn’t: the weather was fine, and we had the task of putting away our perishables. Our neighbor’s son was also outside, in his backyard. The two chatted, about whatever a 4- and 5-year-old would discuss. She swiftly formulated an idea: Let’s play together. I’ll come over to your house. In the midst of this, I happened to check on her and said “hi” to my neighbors’ son.
Natalie popped her head out to chat with me — even though she was in the process of vacuuming and other housework. After a little comforting “oh, we have that current issue with our child, too” talking, she invited us over for later that afternoon so that the kids could have a playdate. She must have seen the hesitation on my face — I immediately felt like we would be imposing — because as we were going back to our to-do lists, she reiterated that truly, it would be ok for us to go over in a bit. So, I put my sense of being a bother aside, and told her that we would eventually be over.
And this was all my daughter’s doing. I felt a little flustered. But I have to admit, many of the days that started out ordinary and turned out pretty great have always been my daughter’s doing. After all, the day almost two years ago that we happened upon our friends Ivanna, Sofia, and Omar at a local park was the result of my daughter wanting to say “hello” because she wanted to make new friends and saw no reason or felt no inhibition not to go over to them. Yes, as her mother, I see this as both a blessing and a possible curse. Nevertheless, she certainly has an open heart. It is one of the many positive qualities that she naturally possesses, that she is teaching to me all over again.
As I mentioned, at first, I was scrambling to deal with the major change in the day. I still hadn’t worked out or showered…that was all I absolutely expected of myself for the afternoon. Come on, that’s still possible, I cajoled myself. We’ll go next door for about an hour, then exit home, so as to not over-welcome ourselves.
She sped through her lunch like she was in a competition. “Mommy, are you done eating yet?” she asked me four times while I conversed with my husband over our family’s meal. When I went upstairs to freshen myself, I could hear her ask her father “What is keeping, Mommy? Why is she taking so long to come back down?” at least twice. We had to remind her that our neighbors also needed to eat lunch. That we needed to give them a little time before we knocked on their door.
But I didn’t get mad because I got it. I understand that she has arrived at a point where she really wants to have more friends. I do, too. But how do you explain to a 4-year-old all the obstacles and difficulties in making new friends, especially as life gets more in the way?
While the children were playing, I sat and talked with Yulio, and began to see the person inside for the first time, even though I have spoken with him in the friendly way that neighbors sometimes do outside on many occasions. I got a glimpse at the interesting way that he thinks — deeply — and his ease with communicating his thoughts. It was a pleasant conversation that ended with him inviting my trio to have dinner with them, as they had spontaneously decided the day before to have a cook-out and some guests.
I was kind of floored. In a good way. Ok, sure, we’ve been neighbors for three years, but to open your home to me and my family so graciously is unexpected.
When Natalie came down — looking gorgeous for the get-together — she echoed her husband’s invite. I hesitated a bit again, but honestly, I was already enjoying being in their company. There is something very warm about certain people. Some of my friends have it. And so do my neighbors, Natalie and Yulio.
I texted my husband, who seemed to hesitate himself. But when I said “I think we should,” he was into it, too.
I realized what I was doing. Something that I don’t normally allow myself to do. I was letting the day unfold around me without freaking out about it. I was “going with the flow” and enjoying it.
The other guests arrived, and each of them were as friendly and welcoming as Natalie and Yulio. It didn’t matter that for most of them, Spanish is their native language. It didn’t matter that we had just met. Nor did it matter what differences might exist between us. We were all friends Saturday night. Eating. Laughing. Talking about whatever.
During the several hours we spent next door, out in our neighbors’ back yard with the congenial flickering of the candle in the lantern on the wooden picnic table, I also began to see passed Natalie’s outer beauty and started to recognize the light in her soul. When she speaks, a certain charming cuteness emanates from her as she gets into telling you a story or describing something. And like me, she uses her hands as part of her communication.
Socializing. I sometimes nearly forget what it feels like to enjoy the company of others when the relentless cycle of parenting and responsibility and life has you in its grips. It was liberating. It was like a gift. From my kid. It was like she knew exactly what I needed.