When we moved from a quaint little cobblestone town, South of Paris, to the booming financial district of La Defense where we settled across the street from a mall, I knew I had found happiness.
Don’t pity me for my lack of culture, as I know you are bound to, and just let me repeat that there was a mall. In the other town, I had nowhere to go and nobody talked to me, even on the playground. In my new area, I could take on even the coldest, rainiest days with fortitude simply by pushing the double stroller over to the mall entrance and losing myself in a Starbucks latté while trying not to lose my kids as they ran freely down the carpeted corridors. We’d all go home to our apartment for a nap afterwards, cheerful and spent.
But what was even more wonderful was the group of international friends my kids and I made. We lived in the tallest residential building in all of Europe, and our playground was in the midst of a series of high-rise buildings. The public school was located at the base of our building so we only needed to take the elevator and descend a set of steps before arriving. There, we greeted each other in the friendliest way possible, and everyone would make plans to meet up again later in the day at the playground.
My best friends were Amina from Morocco, Faiza from Algeria and Zali from Mayotte. We all lived in the same building, and between us, had eleven children who all played loudly together.
We would meet for lunch, avoiding the Ramadan period when Faiza and Amina didn’t eat or drink during the day. We bought Halal meat for Amina and her kids’ sake, who only ate the specially sacrificed meat according to Muslim tradition. We shared about our different religions with respect, and accepted each other as we were. There was so much to delight in – the customs, the foods and the different styles of mothering we all practiced according to our tradition and personality.
At other times, we’d go to the playground where we’d see the French mothers, the Iranian, the Saudi Arabian, the West African, the Indian, the Romanian mothers, and more. And this spirit of respect, affection and good will extended to nearly everyone there.
Motherhood trumps many social and cultural boundaries, as does living in a cosmopolitan area.
Sometimes I would bring a thermos of coffee and a box of homemade cookies to share with everyone as we all chatted on the park bench. That was my American contribution, and friends weren’t above knocking at our door whenever the scent of baking floated into the corridor. Our worries at that time were as small as our children, and we enjoyed a peace that will forever be branded in my mind as belonging to that place, those people and that time.
We’ve all moved since then, and the closest of us still keep in touch. As grateful as I am for the space we now have in our house and garden, we are now living in a more homogenous neighborhood where cultural and social boundaries are even more rigid. Were it not for our very diverse church, I would be afraid that my children would forget – that they would grow up not knowing the joy of diversity, the salt that gives flavor to the soup.
What about you? Do you and your children have a diverse set of friends? Do you rejoice in that fact, or is it so normal to you that you don’t even notice it?