Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Playing in someone else's yard

“Getting to play in someone else’s yard” is an appropriate metaphor for our trip to D.C. since the kids have spent more time playing with their cousins in the backyard than engaged in any other activity, but it’s also relevant in the figurative sense, since playing in someone else’s yard is exactly what it’s felt like to me to be here for four days.

Getting to play in someone else’s yard just means having a brief taste of what it’s like to live a different kind of life from the one you’ve chosen. Although staying at Sarah’s home in Washington isn’t as different from being at my own house in Carlisle as, say, staying in a yurt in Nepal or even an attic apartment in Paris would be, it gave me the chance to sample a different kind of life from what I live at home. On my morning run yesterday, I passed women pushing strollers while leading dogs on leashes and business people dressed in suits, briefcase in one hand and Starbucks cup in the other, and even a tennis court where an instructor was giving a lesson, as well as other runners of all ages. On my daily run at home, I pass trees, pastures, stone walls, a cemetery. It’s fun to have so much company while I’m out running. At home, I hole up in my home office working most weekdays, but when I need to go somewhere I climb into the car. Here, because it’s our vacation, we spent the day out visiting museums, and we got there by walking to the subway stop and then taking the subway downtown. Once in the city, we walked along bustling and crowded streets. The kids saw professionals, street people, college students, dog walkers, other tourists. It’s good for them and it’s good for me to be reminded of how much variety is out there.

My daily environment at home is one that many would envy and that I myself treasure, living on a farm in New England. There’s a lot of nature around us and a lot of solitude throughout our days. Here, instead of pastures I saw beautifully flowering cultivated bushes on the small city lawns in front of most of the houses. Unlike at home where the kids generally have to make plans if they want a friend to come over and play, here they’ve witnessed how playdates in a more populous environment work: whoever has the best swinging/climbing structure in their yard, which in this case is my niece and nephew, plays host by default whoever drops by: kids of all sizes, with and without parents, some who stay for ten minutes and some for two hours.

In the classic fable, we’d be analogous to the country mouse who visits her urban cousin and ends up happier with home, but in real life it’s not that cut and dried. I like being in the midst of humanity here. I like seeing other mothers and other runners every time I leave the house on foot. I also like our fields and forests. The subway takes some getting used to, but I like for the kids to see how manageable and useful public transportation is (and how if you get befuddled by the exit-fare system, as I have, there’s usually someone around to help). When a street person approached us chanting a semi-intelligible prayer, I was happy for my kids to experience that as well.

Getting to play in someone else’s yard is as valuable metaphorically is it is fun in the literal context. We’ll be home in a few hours, back to our country life, which we love. But we’ll remember all we saw and did here, and we’ll look forward to coming back.

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