Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Natural Born Leader

UntitledI  often practice "Good fences make good neighbors." I know people and speak to them and hold doors open for them but am somewhat careful about prying and inviting and asking for things. The result is a strange, but usually satisfying, grapevine fruited with chance meetings and colorful snapshots of people's lives.

A couple of years ago I answered a post on a google group about a neighbor's couch for sale. I went over that evening to see if it would fit me and my menagerie and met the neighbor and her daughter, E. E was about 3 at the time and already wildly social. After showing me some toys and telling me some stories she walked me to the elevator down the hall. At the apartment door her mother apologized, "I'm not allowed to go with you. She likes to take people herself." E pressed the down button and kept up a lively stream of small talk until my ride appeared and she could wave goodbye as I descended.

I liked her immensely.

Since then we generally say hello or at least exchange solemn, secret nods when we pass each other on the street or in the courtyard. Sometimes there's a story that must be told and sometimes my dog must perform. For a brief period (so very brief) a shy phase silenced her but we got through it. I was relieved when it was over because, even knowing E just a little, I could tell it didn't suit her. I saw this quote from Sheryl Sandberg today on Facebook, "I want every little girl who's told she's bossy to be told instead that she has leadership skills." E has marvelous leadership skills. I, for one, would follow her anywhere and I know I'm not alone.

On Sunday I worked a long day at a great food show, extolling the virtues of Spoonable Caramel sauces. By the time I got off the bus at home my feet and legs ached and I was sweaty and disheveled but I saw that E and her family were just ahead of me. I knew I could use a good dose of E's light and verve so I mustered up some steam and overtook them. When E noticed me I put out my hand for a side 5 which she expertly administered. We shared out secret, grown up friendship smile and I kept going. Suddenly E poured on some speed and came up level with me.

Skipping twice she said, "After Wednesday I'm not going to see you anymore." Kids do have a flair for bluntness.

You all know how I feel about change. I should have been prepared for this. Nine out of ten families in my area depart the neighborhood within a year of the birth of their second child. They do it for space, for schools, for family, for change, for money, for a host of other reasons but their timing is eerily similar. I immediately felt the loss of not getting to watch this natural born leader grow up even from my spot way over here on the sidelines. Just as quickly I chastised myself for getting so attached to someone I was connected to by so thin a thread. These are the consequences of my well-constructed fences.

I could tell by her delivery that this information (perhaps like the news of her younger sibling's impending arrival a little over a year ago) had been presented to her as a positive and yet (perhaps due in part to the reality of having such a familial ad campaign to compare to an actual younger sibling) she wanted to try it out on another adult to see if it was in fact good news. I sucked in my hitched breath and fired right back with my most intrigued tone, "Really? Why not?" When in doubt, feign ignorance.

Untitled "We're moving to the new house."

"Wow! Congratulations! Where is it?" We grappled with an answer to that for a bit. She couldn't remember the name and I didn't want to risk insulting her nearby parents by testing out words like "Connecticut" and "New Jersey" to see if they sounded familiar.

E solved the problem by directing my attention elsewhere. "My new closet is pink!" and she surged ahead on the wings of that glorious knowledge.

Her father, inching up behind, offered the name of their new neighborhood. It's close enough that we're in the same borough and far enough away that we are virtually assured of never running into each other again. I asked him about the closet and he told me he would be painting it as soon as possible.

When I caught up with E again I mentioned that her closet would match part of her dress and I tickled her a little just to hear her exuberant laugh one more time. I told her to have fun with her new closet then I looked her in the eye and said, "I will miss you."

And I will.

*Photos of Our Bethany's family. They moved but their timeline and their reasons are different and I'm making damn sure they don't forget me.


  1. I think that she and Ralphie could form a team that could conquer anything.