When I was little, we lived in a neighborhood in which there were always kids within walking distance. Two sisters my age lived across the street. A family with three girls lived up the block. Two little boys my brother's age lived around the block. And while I wasn't around much after school because my parents were both teachers and we spent a good chunk of the afternoon commuting, it was still nice to know that if I was bored, all I had to do was go ring their doorbell.
As I got older, and was entrusted to go a little farther on my own, I had a friend who lived two streets away, and I'd ride my bike to her house, where we would spend long afternoons pretending in her attic. And finally, when I got to high school, I'd head by bike to a friend's house two towns and several miles away.
I know that this is a different time and age than the one in which I grew up. But there are some things that I don't know if we need to give up just yet. Like the impromptu doorbell-ring.
There are some neighborhoods where this is not possible, for a host of reasons. The houses are too far apart. There aren't enough similarly-aged children in the neighborhood. You folks get a pass.
And there are some neighborhoods where the impromptu doorbell-ring (or simply entering with a passel of friends without the extra step of ringing) is alive and well. You folks aren't the people I'm talking about here, either.
We live on a street with no fewer than five boys and girls who are I's age. There are also three children N's age. And yet, hardly ever does anyone ring the doorbell. Instead, we organize elaborate playdates, mostly with children who don't even live on our block.
My son and I were talking about this one night, after I'd put him to bed. About how I dislike the word "playdate," because it feels so contrived. Like our toddlers need iPhones from birth, scheduling their play and organizing their relationships. And how the arrangement feels exclusive to me; once you've committed to a "playdate" with one friend, you can't add a third random friend to the mix, who happens to ring the doorbell.
Partially as a follow-up to the conversation, the next morning, on a Saturday, I sent I. up the block to his friend's house to ring the doorbell, with instructions that upon the door opening, he was to invite said friend over to our house to play. "But what if they're not home?" he worried.
"Then come home," I answered.
"What if he doesn't want to come over here, and what if he asks me to go there?" he asked.
"Then ask to use the phone, and call us to tell us that you're going to stay," I said. "That's fine with me, as long as I know where you are. And I'll tell you when we'll come pick you up."
"What if he doesn't want to play?"
"Then tell him thanks anyway, and tell him that you'll see him later, and come home."
He seemed satisfied with this, and skipped up the street. It turned out that his friend's mom wasn't able to open the door, but she called later to bring the friend over to play for a while. My son was thrilled.
Even as adults, we seem to tiptoe around each others' lives. We don't call up friends without a reason any more, because Facebook takes care of our quick check-ins. We don't drop by randomly for a cup of coffee, at least, most of us I know don't. Or I don't. And I feel like it's a dying art, the art of the unexpected visit, the art of intrusive friendship. I feel like it's an art my children need to learn, if they're going to learn to notice people, and care about them, even when those people don't tell them that they need to be cared about.
So I've decided that for now, I'm going to boycott playdates. I'm going to randomly call up my friends and ask if they want to come play [*edited later to add: with as much acknowledgement of work schedules as possible, and understanding when people have prior commitments!]. I'm going to send my children to ring doorbells, and interrupt our over-scheduled lives. I'm going to welcome people to my house if they come calling, and always have something I can throw together and offer up as a light lunch. Because sometimes the most fulfilling moments are the ones we never put on the calendar in the first place.
Do you -- or your children, if you have them -- ring doorbells? Or do you tend to make plans to see friends?
I've been thinking about this salad as an antidote to all of the unhealthy eating from the holidays, and with a crusty loaf of bread, it's a perfect throw-together kind of meal that's fancy enough to offer a guest. Kohrabi is cool-weather vegetable, and one of the first and last things that we get in our CSA shares. If you're looking through seed catalogues yet, as we often do here in the midwinter, it might be something to add to your order.
1 head broccoli, stems removed and cut into florets
1 c. kohlrabi, finely chopped
1/2 c. golden raisins
1/2 c. sunflower seeds
1 avocado, peeled and pitted
3 T. lemon juice
3 T. orange juice
2 T. lime juice
2 T. apple cider vinegar
1 T. agave
3 T. oil of your choice
6-7 chive blossoms (you may not have these right now, so you can always use a scallion or two, but the chive blossoms are really lovely and light)
Toss together broccoli, kohlrabi, raisins, and seeds. In a blender, blend remaining ingredients. Pour over vegetables.
Break apart chive blossoms into small bits and scatter over the salad.