Playground Etiquette

One of the most hair-raising experiences of my thirties has been trying to figure out how to parent kids while simultaneously attempting to make and keep friends.

It took me eight years of careful sociological study and experimentation to figure out how to do this with as much tact, and as little arrogant condemnation of  other people as I could muster. 

How to reprimand my children in public, for instance, while seeming neither a bully, nor a wimp. How to reprimand other people’s brats children so it seemed as if I cared about their behavior more than just how it impacted the present playdate.  How to locate that fine line between co-parenting with good friends… and complete and utter neglect.

The hard time I put in making mom friends in New Jersey was well worth the effort: After five years of dancing around playdates and preschool drop off trying to figure out who I liked and who liked me back, I had enough mom friends where I no longer needed to troll message boards or moms’ groups. Even better, I had a good solid book club and a small contact list of people I could call on short notice should I desperately need a shared drink or cup of tea the minute my husband walked in the front door.

Alas, due to the seven-hour time difference and technophobia, my Stateside mom friends have practically abandoned me.  I can’t blame them. I’m good for nothing at this point; not a drop off playdate, not even a drop off birthday party.

I am not friendless here, though. I have two friends (not counting my husband, which would be both cheesy and stupid, since one of the best parts of having a girlfriend is griping about your husband). Both of my girlfriends I knew before moving here. Yafit was actually one of my first mom friends. Each of us gave birth to our first child in Tucson, and since moved away. Two more kids later, she and her husband now live in Netanya, a suburb of Tel Aviv. With Yafit: There’s no friendly flirtations to partake in; no questioning of our commitment and loyalty to each other. We’re friends. It’s a done deal.

The other is my friend from high school, Shira, who I’m very grateful to have as my neighbor. It’s through Shira that we even knew about Hannaton and she’s been my de facto advisor since we decided to make Aliyah. She’s given us the heads up on potential bureacratic nightmares. She’s let me know where I can buy organic produce or local spices. But, most important, I don’t have to be “on” when I am around her. I can be me…or at least the me that’s still trying to figure out who I am here.

This is not to say that other folks here haven’t gone out of their way to get to know us or be friendly. They certainly have. What I am saying is that I am having a hard time figuring out the rules of engagement.

It’s a whole new ball game for me here in Israel — not just because I’m the new girl on the block or because of the cultural differences (read laissez faire approach to parenting) or even due to the language barrier, but moreso because I have to start from scratch. I need to figure out both who I am as a parent, and who I am as a person, here in this new country and this small, intentional community.

Even harder, I need to figure out how I can share that version of me with people who don’t necessarily speak or want to speak my native language. And, let me tell you, my brand of charm and wit doesn’t translate so easily into broken, present-tense Hebrew.  I almost wish I was pregnant. (God forbid, ptoo, ptoo, ptoo.) At least if I was pregnant, there would be an easy source of conversation; an obvious topic to study in my Hebrew language dictionary.  At least, I could come to gatherings prepared.

Instead, after pick up at the Gan or alongside other adults at the playground, I find myself facing discomforts I thought I left behind long ago. I wonder how appropriate it is for me to linger near, about or around the group of chatting grownups; how much of the conversation in Hebrew I should try to keep up with before resorting to a rhythmic bob of my head in feigned understanding; or how long I should wait to notify the parent of the child who is smacking my two-year-old across the head with a bag of Bisli.

The truth is…I’m getting there. Slower than I like, but I am getting there. I have enough of a playful repor with a few of my new “almost-friends” that I feel comfortable mentioning my interactions with them here. And they’re interested enough in me to take the time to read this blog.

Unless, of course, they’re not interested in me at all; they’re just narcissists. Which wouldn’t be so bad, really, as it would make for good conversation over that beer I’ve yet to be invited to (subtle hint, hint).

I suppose I could be a little more proactive than I’ve been, too. Give up the coy, shy persona that I will no way be able to pull off once someone spends one-on-one time with me for more than twenty minutes.  Or, perhaps I’ll use the oldest trick in the book: My kid as bait. I could encourage my two-year-old to smack their kid across the head with a stick or instruct her to “accidentally” pee on their front yard.

If nothing else, a peeing two-year-old is a great conversation piece — in both Hebrew and in English.

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