Spanish on the porch with Molly

It’s time to talk about how we’ve made it through this year. When I look at Bilingual Baby, I see a kid who is growing and learning, despite the pandemic. I wish that were the case for every child. So many have carried the weight of this year around in their little bodies, and when this is all over, we will find that many children have fallen behind, both academically and socioemotionally. Broadly, American society and government has not taken care of its people (especially here in Texas).

In our small corner of the country, we are living in a community within a community within a community. I feel wrapped up, snug-as-a-bug, with no reason (and no real ability) to go anywhere. When we moved back to the neighborhood where my mom lives, we couldn’t afford a house, so we bought a condo in a small complex built in the ’60’s. When I tell people where I live, despite it being on the main road that runs through our neighborhood, most people can’t conjure it up. And I always say, “Yes, the most memorable thing about our building is how unmemorable it is.”

But once you walk through the gate, you’re met with the shade of a far-reaching sycamore and the friendly plants and tchotchkes that live on the balconies overlooking the courtyard. On my friend Molly’s porch you’ll find tastefully arranged ceramic pots with carefully watered vines growing around her railing. Her fiancé, Peter, has a home-made aquaponics system where fish swim about and unknowingly fertilize the basil growing above their tank.

You’ll also find chairs spaced a comfortable six feet apart. And here’s where this story begins.

Molly lived in our condo community nearly a year before we ever starting smiling and waving to each other in passing. But she’s a bilingual speech language pathologist at a school, and we realized we had a lot of common interests: language, child development, travel, writing, reading, yoga, salsa dancing, and riding bikes. So began our pandemic friendship. We’ve never gone into her home to hang out. We’ve never been able to invite them over to watch a movie in ours. We stay outdoors, we stay six feet apart, and mostly we stay masked.

Best of all, of course, is that Molly and Bilingual Baby can speak Spanish with each other. As a speech language pathologist, Molly makes observations about Bilingual Baby’s pronunciation, her word-choice, her language acquisition in general. And I find it so fascinating. When the three of us are together, we easily slip into English. But small reminders and the slightest effort from each of us takes us comfortably back into Spanish.

With all the English in our lives right now, these visits with Molly are a respite, an important opportunity for Bilingual Baby to actively produce Spanish.

And, language aside, Molly has helped push us from a feeling of “getting by,” into a place where we have something to look forward to. We often don’t plan our visits with her. Instead, we knock on her door, or she knocks on ours. Sunday morning coffee on my porch may turn into an entire afternoon of making paper snowflake cut-outs that ends in ordering tacos for lunch. She might see us getting our bikes from the bike room and decide to join us for a spin around the neighborhood, ending in a distanced picnic in the park.

And maybe best of all—Bilingual Baby and I each have our own relationship with Molly. The two of them often spend time on the patio together while I get things done at home. For Christmas, Molly got her a box with crafting materials that’s just for her when she comes over. And sometimes Molly and I just want our own time to talk and—lately—get on YouTube to practice our salsa dancing moves at a distance. We are both social beings and miss life outside—we miss our friends, and we miss going dancing.

I hope others have found solace in new friendships that were hiding in plain sight. It’s more important than ever to look out for our neighbors, to check on them and visit from a safe distance. If we lived in a house, we wouldn’t have what we have in this condo: a community of dwellers who all know my daughter’s name and and seem to get a rush seeing her run around the courtyard when she’s on a break from online Kinder class.

In addition to Molly, there’s Susan, who leaves little presents on the porch for us; Amy, who lets us visit her and her dog Jersey when they’re outside; Lindsay, who brings paper and markers out to her porch and draws with Bilingual Baby; and Jo, who always opens the door to say good morning when she hears her 5-year-old neighbor run by.

Over the past year, I’ve noticed some of our communities slip away and even disappear, while new ones have formed and strengthened. But it’s been an exercise in trusting that even without going anywhere, I’m somewhere important. If anything, it has made me realize that I don’t need to look much further than my neighbors for a sense of belonging.

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