Sometimes parenting friendship happens easily, and through simple means.
I first met our park friends when my oldest daughter was 2 years old. The grandmother, a shorter, slightly rounded woman, followed her toddling grandson up the sidewalk to the playground. The grandfather brought up the rear at a slower pace, with a cane in his hand and a witty remark about the fall weather on his tongue.
At first I paid little attention to the family. Megan and I had walked to the quiet neighborhood park that crisp morning so she could play, and I could process my thoughts and breathe fresh air.
My husband and I were trying to conceive another child, and I had just discovered that we had no luck again that month. We were only two or three months into our efforts, but I had gotten pregnant with my first daughter so quickly that I fully expected the second time around to go the same way. We hadn’t even officially started trying yet when I got pregnant with Megan.
My mother had always surmised that I was probably like her and would get pregnant with all of my children within one month of trying, two months max. I was disappointed in myself. I had hit my 30s and it wasn’t happening effortlessly. I was learning to adjust my expectations. I realized it might take a while this time, like it does for many couples. I hoped a morning at the park would help clear my head.
Friendship at the Park
I don’t like interacting with strangers at parks. I prefer busy playgrounds with lots of families and kids running around, as counter intuitive as that may sound, because I can blend in and not feel pressured to make small talk. I can be that parent who sits and watches from the sidelines and no one bothers me.
Our neighborhood park is not that kind of park. It is rarely busy. If I encounter anyone else there, it is usually just one or two other families. They might be nice, normal families, or they might be crazy parents who make me cringe when they suddenly ask for my phone number and talk about scheduling play dates.
Still, our local park is within walking distance from our house, so I make do some days.
On this particular day, I watched as Megan and the couple’s grandson warmed up to each other. I learned they were the same age, and they climbed together on the toddler play equipment. They tossed spiky balls dropped from sweet gum trees up the enclosed slide and watched them roll back down and drop to the ground. Soon, we grownups also were chucking a few gum balls up the slide and watching, mesmerized, as they tumbled to the mulch.
We started talking. The couple explained that they frequently babysat their grandson, Austin, and they make the rounds at the local parks. I learned that they went to a church down the street from my own church.
They seemed like safe people, and talking with them about random small things and watching the kids interact had a therapeutic effect. I walked home with Megan and made lunch, and I felt more at peace, accepting the possibility that I might conceive next month, or that Megan might be my only child.
Another Chance Meeting
I didn’t think about that couple and their grandson again until I ran into them at another park about 18 months later.
My oldest daughter was now 4 years old. I had just picked her up from a morning at preschool and decided to let her play at a park for a bit before heading home.
Strapped to my chest in an infant carrier was my second daughter, Abigail, who was only a few months old.
As we approached the playground, I recognized the friendly grandmother standing near the slides. She was watching her grandson, and the grandfather sat nearby with his reliable cane. They recognized me and admired my baby. Abigail was born almost exactly one year after I first met our park friends, and my worries about trying to conceive had melted away.
We reintroduced Megan and Austin to each other, and they picked up where they had left off. They were preschoolers now and capable of tackling the tall ladders and fast slides.
When Friendships Stick
My daughters are now 8 and 4 years old. I’ve continued to run into our friends about once a year, usually at the same neighborhood park where I first met them. I still don’t know the grandparents’ names, but we always remember the children’s names. We marvel at how the children are growing bigger and growing up. I’ve learned through this friendship that this couple are long-time residents of our area, having raised their now-grown children here. The grandfather is a retired paramedic. They update me on new grandchildren that have joined the family, and when I last saw them a few months ago they were awaiting the birth of their newest grandchild.
The last time my daughters and I saw them, my husband happened to be with us as well. I felt a certain pride in finally introducing him to these people I have known for years. We stood in the playground mulch long into the evening hours, talking and watching the kids toss sweet gum balls up the slides.
I remain wary about making small talk with families I don’t know at parks, because not every friendship is as good as this one has been. It was worth it that day nearly six years ago. When I see that familiar couple coming up the park sidewalk with their grandson, I always smile. The grandmother and grandson always stroll up together, with the grandfather steadily following with his cane.
They are nice people, and I remember how they unknowingly lifted my spirits on a disappointing day years ago. Even if we only see them once a year or less, I count them as friends.
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