It was hot for early summer. Schools weren’t out yet, and it was before noon, but already a persistent band of perspiration beaded at my son’s hairline. I had pushed him to the park in a little blue pick-up truck with a handle and removable floorboard for Flintstones-style riding once he got a little bigger; but for now he was “mommy’s leg workout”. It was only a few blocks from our house; and, since it was the middle of the week and not-quite-summer, we could enjoy relatively nice weather in relative peace. After a relaxing ride, he was ready to explore and I was ready to catch my breath.
We had the place near to ourselves, save for one family. As I hovered around the edge of the woodchips, recovering from our trek, Weston fearlessly toddled up to the most adorable little dark-eyed girl. Her deep brown pig-tails bounced as she twisted and pulled at the wheels on the jungle gym wall. She looked like she was having a good time, and I understood why he wanted to join. I was trying to find that park sweet-spot. You know, the perfect place in-between the too-near helicopter and the negligently distant. I was comforted when I noticed the girl’s mother had assumed a position at a similar distance.
I tried to initiate polite conversation, but I soon noticed that her eyes would only glance over to me for the briefest of moments before darting away. She watched the girl closely, who was busy showing my blonde boy how the flag waved when the wheel was turned. The quiet mother’s eyes flicked between the toddlers and the larger gym a few feet away where a man played chase with two older children. She did that until, seemingly by accident, her eyes fell on me. She smiled politely, and made to avert them but I hastily nodded to the children, said, “They are adorable,” and tried to make my smile warm. But it was no good.
She nodded her head a bit, and returned my smile, but her eyes skittered away from me, toward the man, the girl, back to me, away again. Her discomfort was controlled, but apparent. I had heard her husband talking with the kids as they played. I recognized the language, though I understood none of it. But I didn’t fully understand until I reached out to her.
She was like the rabbits I would try to befriend at my grandma’s house on early summer evenings. No matter how calm and slow and gentle I was, I could not communicate to them that I meant no harm. They would sense my presence and stand stock still, ears twitching and one eye on me as I slowly crept closer. They would appraise me with an air of suspicion until I got too close for comfort, when they would dash back into the safety of the wood and the comfort of those whose creatures who spoke their tongue.
I had never identified with a person who had to live in a world they couldn’t communicate with, but that day on that little park, my son was the only one who would understand me if I spoke, and it was easy, for a moment, to imagine that mother’s reality.