Half a block down and across the street is an elementary school. This is not where Willa will go because, well, it's hardcore Christan, and we are not. Jim and I used to take the dogs there to run in the open field on the hill. Now we take Willa there to run across wood chips to conquer slides of various heights and shapes.
On our walk to the playground last night Willa and I (finally) met the four young girls who moved in across the street from us last year. They range from entering kindergarten to 7th grade; sweet, charming girls with shy smiles and a fun secret language shared between sisters and cousins. As we parted ways they warned us that "the big kids" were at the playground.
Willa played on the smallest play set for a while, and then walked over to the metal slide. A group of five "big kids" were sitting in on the steps of the slide, blocking the way. Willa was ready to part the sea of big kids to get to her favorite slide.
One of them asked if he could hold her. "No," I said, "she's a little shy, and isn't comfortable with strangers."
This apparently insulted divawithsunglasses, who went commented on how her friend wasn't strange, and should she be talking to me, because I was a stranger (and frankly with that attitude, I'd rather she didn't talk to me)? "That's your choice," I said.
Another girl spoke up, "she only means that the baby doesn't know him."
I smiled at her and agreed. We chatted for a minute when I noticed what she was doing.
"Hey, what are you doing there?"
"I'd really appreciate if you stopped burning your name into the playground wood."
"Aw mannn.... why does everyone have to get in my business?"
"Because that's part of our community, and you should respect it."
Divawithsunglasses sucked her teeth, and started talking about how strangers should tell people what to do. She tried to make it about race.
"Look," I said, "you live near here. I live near here. I think we should try to keep this playground nice, so people can enjoy it. I'm just asking you to respect the neighborhood." I scooped up Willa and walked back to the smaller play set.
These "big kids" were probably the same age as the oldest in the group of girls we met on the way to the playground. I'll be damned if I let a group of bored, disrespectful 12 year olds ruin a trip to the playground.
There is an apartment complex at the bottom of our street. It used to be a desirable place to live. Now it's section 8 housing. In the nearly 2 years that I've lived in this neighborhood, I've witnessed tangible tensions. "Some car windows were smashed this month, it was probably people from the apartments." "The school was broken into, I'm sure it was one of them." The socioeconomic reality of our neighborhood is that there are middle class white folks in houses, and poor black folks in apartments. And part of me hungers to see a white kid throw a piece of trash on our lawn so I can say, "see, it's not them!" Even better, an old white woman, so it's not the kids who are "ruining" our neighborhood.
While I was walking with Willa I heard 2 boys playing basketball talking. "I stay in the apartments. Where do you stay?" "I stay in the apartments too."
Stay. Not live. It starts to click for me. Staying somewhere implies a lack of ownership; people stay in hotels on vacation.
I'm writing this to explore and understand. To understand last night's exchange. To understand my own prejudices and social structural norms. To understand those of others.
Those "big kids" probably aren't thinking about me or our experience last night, but it's staying with me. How do I, how does my community, how does America become more inclusive? How do we get a bunch of bored, self-involved, full of attitude "big kids" to care about and respect their community? I thought I would start by asking them to.
Honestly looking for ideas, shared experiences, and feedback.
Postscript: Our neighborhood is safe (no need to worry mom and dad) and almost idyllic, with the exception of this current of tension.