No Benches At My Park

I just got done reWednesday Sistersading The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton.    I loved this book.  The friendships that the women were able to make starting on a park bench on Wednesday mornings while their kids played were truly remarkable.  The book is set in the late 1960’s which offers a lot of perspective on how they were able to formulate these friendships.

They saw each other through births, miscarriages, deaths, infidelities, cancer…all the hardships we as women are faced with regularly.  What tied these women together was their love for one another and their love for writing.  I really enjoyed the book, but have some thoughts about it that have been bubbling around in my head.  Before I spew my guts out, you have to promise not to feel sorry for me, judge me, or try to be my best friend.  Deal?  OK.  Here goes:

The reason I am cynical about this book is that I just don’t think these types of friendships are possible anymore without a ton of work and effort. Things have changed, and part of the problem is that we are living in a very transient society. People come and people go in and out of our lives on a regular basis, with not many feeling settled in their homes or communities.  We are either coming or going with no deep roots immersing us into a place for very long.

  We have sealed up ourselves in our neat little houses in our neat little neighborhoods and close the door so no one ever comes in and no one ever goes out.  There is one park in my community where I take the girls to play.   There aren’t any benches.  A lot of the moms sit in their cars on their cell phones while they watch their kids play.

When Belle and I play outside by our house on a school/work day, you can hear our voices echo in our street.  It is so quiet, you can even hear the echo of the crickets chirping.  I am the only mom on my block that stays home during the day, so there is literally no one around to spark a friendship with, let alone even have a conversation with.  When the other moms on the block get home from working hard all day, they are tired and want to rest awhile before they have to do all the regular mom duties no one else did while they were working. 

I don’t have a relative or sibling that lives close enough that I can just drop my kids off so I can go run an important errand, or just have a few hours to myself.  I have to pay a babysitter almost every single time.  I can’t go to church mid-week because all my babysitters are at church, and the mom’s in my network of friends are too tired from long days to take on 3 more kids.

I am not alone in all of this, I know.  I don’t know many women who have it all figured out. The whole women/friendship thing has always baffled me.  I just don’t see how women have the time or energy to pour into lifelong, deep, solid friendships.  I think times have changed, and it is much harder to make friendships than it was 30 years ago.  It’s not impossible, just a lot harder.

8 thoughts on “No Benches At My Park

  • October 26, 2009 at 9:23 pm
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    I know how you feel. I wish it were like that – where you had a sense of real community in your neighborhood. Perhaps we’re in the wrong neighborhoods for our lifestyle. (p.s. I’ve heard pheasant pointe is awesome & teeming with kids playing outside all the time). I want to be that kind of friend you described. There are so many fences in the way. I feel guilty asking people to watch the kids or I feel like I’m intruding when I want to talk to someone. It’s really a shame. My mom and I were talking the other day about how when I was younger she’d always send us to other houses to borrow a cup of sugar, an egg, whatever we needed at the moment for something we were making. People don’t seem to do that anymore. She made the point though that I think is important – if we go borrow something when we need it then it opens the door and lets others feel comfortable doing the same. I’m sure there are a ton of people willing to watch your kids for you when needed. I would.

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  • October 26, 2009 at 9:44 pm
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    Everything you say is true, of course, but women with careers also are lonely and removed from each other — far more than you would think. On the job, it isn’t easy to let your guard down and be vulnerable the way you need to be for true friendships to develop. I will say, I truly believe technology helps a great deal, allowing us to connect in ways we never would have conceived of years ago. I think my story is a good case in point. Having a child who is a stroke survivor with a lifelong disability would have been a very lonely experience had it not been for the Internet and for the ability to connect with families all over the globe who face similar challenges that my family has faced. I have made lifelong, very dear friends through the Internet who truly get it when it comes to this aspect of my life. Many of us (and our families) get together for a retreat each summer, making the ties even more secure. A generation ago, I would have been very lucky if only one other mother of such a child crossed my path in my entire lifetime. I don’t know how we would have gotten through all of this — the learning disabilities, the onset of seizures, the giant-sized emotions stemming from the brain chemistry changes — without this ability to communicate with people in similar circumstances.

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  • October 27, 2009 at 12:19 am
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    Michelle
    I so totally agree. I wish it was in the late ’60’s. I remember borrowing an egg or a cup of sugar when I was a kid. All the moms stayed at home then. When mom had an appt we would always just go to a neighbor’s house and then we would return the favor….I really don’t know how to change that but I would love to have a deep friendship with someone too….

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  • October 27, 2009 at 12:26 am
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    So true about the neighborhood thing. I grew up in the city. I knew every single neighbor we had. We always knew who was home. If we needed a ride somewhere or needed a favor…there were always one or at least two people who would volunteer to help out. It was like a close knit family. Five years ago my parents moved to Granger. Leaving our old ‘hood was like getting a divorce. It was sad. They love their new house…but they miss their neighbors. Totally different type of neighbors in granger. No one comes our of their cacoon. My Mom and Dad know the people to the left of them and that’s it! I live in a smaller less expensive neighborhood in granger. More children and stay at home moms [although I know none of them…I just see them]. We know the names of our surrounding neighbors but we don’t KNOW any of them. I always think who’s house I’ll run to first if there is an emergency and Andy is at the station. The old couples house? The house with the punked out teenager? The two ladies who lives next door? That’s how I refere to my neighobors…kinda sad. Sometimes I wonder if good neighbors/neighborhood starts with me? Maybe I should be the one taking the first step [even though we’ve lived here for three years already] and make them a christmas cookie basket around the holidays or something. That would be a nice ice breaking gesture, right? I do, thankfully, have some amazing friendships. Although, I feel like the internet has been my park bench. In the summer you’ll often find me at ‘the park in the middle of no where’ or the park next to a corn field off of beach, west of discovery. Maybe I’ll see ya there someday.

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  • October 28, 2009 at 1:53 pm
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    Michelle,
    I agree these types of friendships are very difficult, if possible. As others have pointed out, when we reminisce about the past we often overlooked part of the picture that was then. Some of the positives now are cell phones, email and the internet. Is it the same? No. Is the present better or worse that the 60s? I would suggest it is different, not better or worse. These types of friendships do take more effort now. What I have often found of myself, is that I am not making the required effort. I am not suggesting that you are…just what I have found in my life. I very much emphasize with the lack of community in neighborhoods…as has been suggested many of our neighbors are not interested in building community. It is sad, as I don’t think they know what they are missing.

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  • October 30, 2009 at 10:52 pm
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    I am totally blessed to live in this type of neighborhood. People throw their lawn chairs in their driveways and visit while the kids play in the culdesac. We get confused on whose toys belong to who. I can call a neighbor and ask them to bring my kids home from school if I’m running late and I bring home hers. I borrow eggs and chocolate chips (chocolate chip hook up across the street from us). Some work, some stay at home. Those who work grab their chairs and plop down in the driveway too. We know far more about each other than we should and drive each other crazy sometimes, but it is definitely a great feeling of community. And now that we have lived here long enough, they have even stopped pretending to swear when we’re outside with them! (husband is a pastor) Our neighborhood is truly a blessing I did not know about when I bought the house, but it has made our home worth far more than we paid for it.

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  • November 7, 2009 at 7:53 am
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    I agree with what you’re saying. Spot on critique.
    Perhaps, along with other ideas from commenters, you could organize neighbors to get park benches installed at the park. Why take the status quo (no benches) as reality? Change it!
    The very act of organizing will probably create some relationships, deepen others, and serve as a model for being (like Redeemer Pres in NYC) a “church for the city.”

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  • November 7, 2009 at 10:57 am
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    I can not tell you how much I value the words and opinions you all left here. It is definitely a conversation that we need to continue as a generation. I am hoping that we can offer this sense of community to one another as a starting point.

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