“Look, Mom … Here comes my friend.”

My three year old’s voice couldn’t have been more excited as we played in an otherwise empty park on a “disconnect from life” trip back to my small-town hometown last month to spend a few lazy days with my parents.

I looked around expecting to see one of my friends who happened to show up at the park with their little one that my daughter may have recognized.

Instead – I saw a Mom and her daughter walking down the street towards us.  The Mom unfamiliar – her daughter looking to be about my daughter’s age.

The minute the duo joined the playground area – the girls met up above the tandem slide, asked each other their names, slid down their side of the slide, high-fived and headed off giggling to explore another part of the jungle gym.  As if they’d been friends for months.

Us Moms looked at each other from our keep-a-distance spots across the play area and laughed a bit at the instant friendship that was born between the two.  And we semi-awkwardly came together with our tails between our legs to introduce ourselves to one another and asked a couple of predictable “Mom” questions.  And as our girls continued to play with each other, forcing the two of us to stay in the same general area… more conversation sparked up, and we learned more about each other, we shared stories about raising three-year-old girls and talked about our connection to the town we were in.  And by the end of the almost 30-minute unplanned playdate, we had all made a connection with each other – the girls hugged goodbye and us Moms gave a “nice-to-meet-you” wave.

On our short drive back to my parents’ house I was thinking about that interaction that went down.  And how cool it was that my daughter immediately referred to that little girl as her friend. How quickly they created a friendship. How “normal” it was for them to ask each other’s names. How they bonded on their commonality of two little girls being the same age and just wanting to have fun.  And how THEIR willingness to not remain strangers during that 30-minute timeframe caused their Moms to not remain strangers either.
And what stood out even more was this:   I wondered… if those girls hadn’t made the effort to connect… would that Mom and I have connected instead?  Or would we have just gone about our business with the polite smile – using the “chasing our kids” excuse to avoid (*gasp*) conversation with someone we didn’t know….maybe speaking occasionally to each other only to apologize when our daughter jumped in front of the other daughter to go down the slide.   Or would we – as adults – have reached out to each other to try to form a friendship – even if brief – solely based on the realization of our basic commonality as Moms?
Unfortunately, I’m not sure if we would have.   Because I can think of several times I’ve been at the park with other Moms and neither of us introduced ourselves.  Or struck up a conversation.  Or even said goodbye to each other — let along HUG each other like those two girls did when it was time to leave.
Why do we do that?  Why do we go to the library, and to the playground, and to the play area at the mall, or in the watching area of dance class – where there are tons of Moms just like us around probably craving some adult interaction – and not create some sort of connection out of it out of it?  Why don’t we introduce ourselves? Are we THAT cool that we don’t need to make a new friend? Are we THAT content to do our own thing that we miss an opportunity to make a connection with someone – even if it’s just for the 15 minutes that we’re there?  Is sitting on a park bench and checking what our sort-of-Facebook-friend is doing THAT MUCH more meaningful than creating a real connection with a person that’s right in front of us?  It must be.  Because we usually choose those other things, don’t’ we?
You all know the quote “While we try to teach our kids all about life, our kids teach us what life is all about.”  And isn’t it true in this scenario.  Didn’t those two little girls teach their Moms something about life… and the simple joys of having human interaction with people. No matter how quick.  No matter whether we’ll see them again.  No matter where they come from.   At what point along the way have we missed that?  HOW do our kids know more about what’s important in life than we do?
I’m not sure.
But they do.  And that’s embarrassing, guys.
But we can make up for it by making sure that they never lose that uninhibited willingness to connect with a stranger… by being willing to connect with a stranger.  By getting off our phones, out of our heads and up from the playground’s bench … and getting into life’s game (one at which our kids are currently winning.)