Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe: Small Connections

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

Small Connections

Monday, April 25, 2011

One of my little favorite New York Times features is Metropolitan Diary, a column of little stories of the city that appears on Monday. Over the years I’ve been in it a couple of times and am even in the book of collected columns.

In today’s Metropolitan Diary a contributor named Mimi Alperin, wrote that, in the '70s, her son would travel to and from school on the Fifth Avenue bus. During his daily trips he made friends with two of the route’s bus drivers. Alperin related how her son insisted on inviting one of the drivers to his bar mitzvah. And she told how, just recently, the other driver saw her husband and asked about the son, who is now an adult with his own children.

The story involved two things I like to think about. One is what’s now called “free range children.” Back when I and my children grew up they were just called “children.” But now that the world feels dangerous to us, we are reluctant to let children do the things we took for granted, like taking a bus or walking around the neighborhood alone.

It’s astounding how we no longer notice the absence of children. Not little children who appropriately cling to a parent’s hand when they’re walking down the street. But children who are old enough to begin, one small supervised step at a time, learning how to navigate in the world on their own. There’s a street near my house where, from time to time I have glimpsed a boy, maybe about 10 or 12, walking. Just walking. By himself! A free-range child! I am always happy to see him and I applaud the courage of the parent who has gone against fears of danger and criticism to allow him this freedom.

I also live near a college attended by some of the world’s smartest kids who seem not to know how to cross a street safely. I always think they could have benefitted from a little dose of free-range activity when they were younger.

The second thing I loved about Alperin’s story was the way it acknowledged the relationships we have with all the people in our lives with whom we share an almost unseen connection. We don’t know their names and we hardly do more than nod or smile to each other. The person bringing our mail. The supermarket cashier we like to go to even if her line is a little longer. The gas station attendant who knows right away that we want regular and we’ll be paying cash. It’s these almost unseen interactions that make a neighborhood, that help make us who we are. If we move or if they retire we won’t say goodbye. We might not even notice the absence for a while. But these faces we recognize make our daily lives recognizable to ourselves.

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Anonymous Sandra Kohler said...

I find your description of both the restrictions we place on children these days and the people with whom our connections create our sense of neighborhood and belonging very resonant.

April 25, 2011 at 8:06 PM  
Anonymous Ellen Steinbaum said...

Thanks, Sandra. After I wrote the post I had a conversation in Whole Foods with a real free-range child, a boy about 10, who first asked my advice on what size bag to use in the bakery dept. and then segued into his favorite kind of rolls. It was a charming moment, though I was a little uneasy about the possibility of being caught talking with a random child. I was glad he had the sense to recognize that that there in the Whole Foods bakery dept. with his adult probably in the next aisle was a safe place in which to talk to strangers. Made my day!

April 26, 2011 at 6:06 AM  

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