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Who Are All These People?
“Who was that?” - my daughter asked me yesterday as we were coming back home from the daycare. She asks this question every single time we pass someone in our apartment block hallway. All I can say each time is “That’s one of our neighbors coming back home” or “going out”. She rarely seems satisfied with this kind of answer.
Who are these neighbors actually? What are their names? Do they live alone, with a cat, or a dog? How do they spend their days? What do they dream of? Do they have children my daughter could play with? I could answer these questions for maybe a handful of the neighbors we pass by, out of the few hundred who live in the same building.
I know it’s unrealistic to personally know all of these people. When I was a kid we weren’t really friends with most of our neighbors either. But at least I knew the names of all the kids in our immediate neighborhood, and we’d all meet every day on the same playground right outside our window. Now I don’t even know the name of the 6 year old girl who recently moved in on the other end of the corridor on our floor, let alone all the other children in our giant 14-storey apartment block. I might actually know more dog’s names than kid’s names at this point.
Our local playground is surrounded by a dozen of such giant buildings. We rarely meet the same children there twice. And even when we do, my daughter takes time to get to know someone, and an hour or two in a freezing playground isn’t nearly enough to begin bonding in any meaningful way. Maybe this will change when the weather gets warmer, for now we never went beyond some kind of friendly small talk.
We’re lucky that our girl at least has close friends at her daycare. I know some toddlers who rarely meet any children at all. Maybe some kids are happy just hanging out with their parents, but I know this isn’t the case for our baby girl. She’s clearly excited whenever we pass by a kid around her age, but after all this time I’m still not sure how we can get to know them better.
Perhaps everyone is simply happy spending time on their own and has no desire to get to know random strangers? Every time I ask someone for advice how I could get to know my neighbors, they reply with some of the stuff we’ve already tried. Walking door to door with cookies, printing out postcards and putting them in every single mailbox, starting a neighbor group on Facebook, cleaning up the neighborhood and asking other people to join us. Maybe it would take a hundred repetitions for these things to take effect. But if that’s the case, why does it feel like we’re the only ones trying?
I have some friends who grew up in small closely-knit communities and found that way of life completely suffocating. Every thing they did or say was subject to comments from every single person they passed by. They couldn’t buy groceries or even walk down the street without someone evaluating what they did the previous night.
But surely there must be some middle ground between this and complete alienation? I don’t need to know all the private details of my neighbors’ lives for our kids to occasionally play together. It feels weird to always be the one seeking out contact with people who don’t seem very eager to meet, but if I want my daughter to grow up in a friendly world surrounded by people she loves, maybe I should get used to this and other kinds of weirdness.
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