I generally don't worry about Lily and her social skills. She, like her mama, will talk to just about anyone, and generally conducts herself with healthy heapfuls of confidence that it took me about 33 years to cultivate.
Tonight we went to get a scooter pie at the health food store, and on the way home we passed by Ghetto Park, also known as Athens Square, a queer little miscellany of playground/skate punk arena/homeless party zone. I try to avoid walking past the GP with Lil unless we are really desperate for something social to do (which doesn't happen often, since, duh, we live in NYC), but tonight it could not be avoided.
"Can we stop and play, Mama?" Lily asked, eagerly licking melted carob off her fingertips, which sported the chippy remains of a sparkly purple paint job I did for her this weekend, because she cannot stop biting her goddamned nails.
I sighed, yanked my sweaty t-shirt away from my boobs, fanned my face with my palm, and nodded with resignation.
"OK," I said, "But ten minutes, Lil. Really. Agreed?"
She could hardly wait to skip away from me. "Yay! I'm gonna take my doggie and make a new friend!"
The "doggie" was a small stuffed toy given to us by Hope, our friend at the Goodness Gracious thrift store, which is right next door to the health food store. Hope is a big, friendly, gossipy Greek woman who absolutely loves Lily. She's known us since we first moved to Astoria and Lil was still residing in my uterus. Whenever we take one of our evening health food store trips, we always stop by Hope's and she gives Lily some kind of gift--a tiny jeweled purse, a naked Ken doll, a ratty stuffed animal. Stuffed animals are the worst, because I always worry that these gifts have bedbugs or lice or worse living inside their ancient synthetic batting. But what can I do? She's a nice lady, and I get the sense she'd get offended if we didn't accept her presents. Plus, try taking a shitty stuffed dog away from a kid who's just been handed a treat for no reason, and see what happens.
The park was full of kids, very few of whom spoke English or even were accompanied by parents as far as I could tell. I like this park in the evening because if Lily meets a pal and ditches me, I can just sit on my ass and text people or read a book without worrying about having to make conversation with anyone.
The usual cast of characters was hanging out across the park: Lloyd, the three-fingered "basketball coach" who begs for money on the N train "for the kids in my league", but who I never mind giving a quarter or two to because he has the friendliest smile I've ever seen and always tells me I'm pretty (narcissist. You need approval from the homeless that you're an attractive woman?)
Also present was the strange little German woman who definitely has an apartment, but who always asks people for money anyway, and who spends most of her days sitting in front of the key food with her docile irish setter, who she warns everybody "will tear your head off" if you get too close.
There were also lots of kids on skateboards, as well as the resident crackheads arguing with each other about chess games and whose turn it was to ask the 7-11 guy for coffee.
Lily, always at home with herself, marched right up to a pair of sisters, both a little older than she, and asked if they wanted to play.
What happened next tore my heart right out through my throat.
The two girls just looked at her, giggled, and walked away. Goddamn them.
I watched my little baby's face fall. This was, I think, Lily's first actual experience with rejection.
Every mean-spirited little tow-headed girl who ignored me in elementary school, every pre-adolescent boy who barked at me in the halls of my junior high school, all came rushing into Ghetto Park and stood hovering over my beautiful little girl.
And an anger rose up in me that I couldn't explain.
The worst was the way Lil tried to brush it off. She saw me watching, and just sort of shrugged and went to sit by herself and chatted quietly to her heinously dirty little stuffed dog.
God, you want to save your kids from ever feeling that way. And even more, you want to punish (preferably, in a painful way) any child who could possibly make your child feel like they are anything less than the amazing specimen you know them to be.
But fuck, you really can't.
You can only be there for them when the assholes make them feel badly, which they inevitably will at some point, and hope that you loving them will be enough to make up for it.
I'll tell you though, if I ever see those sisters again at the Ghetto Park, the gloves are coming off.
The Blizzard of '17
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