Recently I was volunteering at our youth-soccer info booth (as I do every Saturday morning), but this particular morning was different because another mom had volunteered too! We don’t get as many volunteers as we would like or need, so it was nice to have someone to chat with in the booth. The woman was not someone I knew, though as we chatted, we realized we had several crossover connections (this is a very small town) and our kids actually were in the same class-(read:zoom-only)room for a month or so last year. We talked about how we both teach dance/fitness… where we were from and other places we had lived… the diversity of various cities… teaching our kids about diversity and culture and social justice in a place without much diversity.
This topic naturally evolves into us talking about my feelings about raising a black man in America, and what she is trying to learn and teach her kids about supporting kids of color being raised here. We start talking about the marches after George Floyd’s death, how hard it is to know how to navigate these injustices and raise children to be better, and the next thing you know we are both brimming with tears in the soccer info booth! Our vulnerability helped us connect and create community.
What just happened?
As I told this stranger at the time (now someone who, after all that, I’ll count as a friend), this experience of meeting someone new in Ojai and immediately getting into some sort of deep, emotional, involved, and absolutely engaging discussion is starting to feel like… normal to me.
I don’t know if it’s Ojai, and the mystical vortex that exists here, or if it’s the people (who may be naturally driven here for said vortex), or if its the post-pandemic desire for connection between people, or if it’s just me! Maybe people around this tiny town know me as the weird lady who always gets way too deep the first time she meets you!
First Conversations can be Forever Friendships
Whatever it is, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I also feel like I have the closest, most supportive friends of my adult life here. Unlike childhood friends, college friends, and work friends (who all share some kind of intense bond based on consistent proximity and shared situations), community adult friends are much harder. There are time constraints, priority constraints, groups to fit into, competitive or insecure elements, endless distractions, and missed connections. I certainly have some great friends from adulthood, but most grew over time. Consistent soccer seasons, endless months of school events, years of annual parties grew connections and great friendships.
Here and now, for whatever reason, I feel thrown all in. No small talk, no simple, surface-level conversations about only what we do and who we know. We move straight from all that to controversy, struggles, fears, doubts, and more. Social justice, IEPs, financial planning, death and grief: all these topics seem to be on the table for first time conversations, and I feel like I have learned so much and made such close connections with people over the last year.
You know what makes those conversations deep and connecting? Empathy. A colleague just sent me a Brene Brown talk about empathy vs. sympathy for a training we were doing. This is just it. Empathy is the ability to come into the conversation at that same level. Talk about those deeper feelings and be involved in that with the other person: that grows connection. Those connections break down any competitive nature, any insecurities, any embarrassment, because that person is saying, “I’m here with you, not looking down at you, I’m looking at you and reflecting myself with you”.
Be the Change
Whatever it is: me, the place or the post-pandemic world, I’m here for it. I’m here to empathize. I’m here for the discussions. I’m here to connect and feel and speak up. There are too many posts about moms feeling overwhelmingly alone. Let’s create these spaces and discussions everywhere- the soccer info booth, after-school pick-up lines, birthday parties, wherever you are, connect. Those conversations and connections are a ripple effect and there are so many moms waiting for that ripple.
I am here and ready to create community through vulnerability.