Say Hello, Wave Goodbye
So I have this neighbor who I’ve always thought to be a fairly miserable dude. I didn’t leap to this assumption over any conversations or from “getting to know him” but rather judged this book by his unkempt, unsmiling, slumped-shoulder cover. I also scored his level of misery through Avery.
Avery and I, in many ways, are opposites. Besides the obvious, big/small, adult/baby, bald/ beautiful hair, distinctions, Avery is what I would consider to be, a people person. She loves waving at passing folks driving trucks. She loves grabbing some attention through dancing and pointing. She yells “Hi!” and “Bye!” to total strangers. I believe if Avery could strike up full-fledged conversations she’d be the type of person who formed deep, lasting relationships with folks she met in the grocery store checkout line. I, simply put, am not this type of person.
But I do like to judge people. That I’m good at. In Avery’s quest to befriend the entire human population I’ve gotten a chance to sit back and silently judge each person she attempts to engage. You wave back, smile and say hi? Congrats, you’re a kind and gentle soul who deserves great things in life. You ignore her? Bad news, your heart is a dried up lump of black coal. Fairly simple equation really and a perfect human vetting system as far as I’m concerned.
Bringing me back to my neighbor. We often see him as he’s pulling into or out of his driveway; he doesn’t spend a ton of time outside. Avery has tried many times to wave at him, all without any response or
acknowledgement. His eyes never shift anywhere but dead ahead, straight freaking forward, and he pulls away/ sits in his car until we walk away. Usually I say to Avery (who really seems unconcerned with
the one-sided interaction) “It’s okay, he just didn’t see you. Keep waving at people!” while in my head I mutter something akin to “@#$$ you @#$@ just wave at my kid!!”
The other day though, she trapped him. He was getting out of his car and walking to the front door right as she and I strolled by on the sidewalk in front of his house. There was nowhere for him to hide. It was a pivotal moment (I thought) for his Basic Human Decency meter. Avery stopped, looked at him, raised her hand and yelled, “Hiiiiiiyeeee!!!!” She threw down the gauntlet and toed her line in the sand. Game on. He stopped, turned, smiled with this grin that said something like, “I don’t do this a lot, I might be out of practice,” and waved back. I said hello to him and made some clichéd comment to him about Avery being tough to keep up with as she sprinted off down the sidewalk. I ran to keep pace.
My point is this: I’d long ago given up having any cordial interaction with this guy. Avery? She didn’t care and definitely did not associate him with all the times he’d ignored her in the past. Her mission, as a social, happy kid is to continue pushing the “Say Hi and Wave” agenda. I encourage it as much as possible, recognizing that I’m not this kind of person in my own daily life. I try to remind her (not like she needs much prompting) to wave at cops and DPW as they drive by. Say hi to neighbors as we walk down the street, greet store workers and landscapers. Basically everyone. But in doing this I realized I’m using Avery as my conduit for also being a social human being. In doing so I’m reminding myself that this is how humans should be, that we should try and remember something as simple as acknowledging each other’s existence.
There’s a freedom in “using” our kids in this way. It’s a complete net positive and something I’ve kind of forgotten about over the years. As an adult I’ve trained myself to keep my head down, plow on by and get to wherever it is I’m going. (I think my neighbor has too. There’s a chance just no one says hi to him. He is out of practice.) Avery doesn’t have that kind of negative social equity built up yet. To her, saying “Hi” and waving simply is what people do. It’s normal and nice and easy. And it’s my job as a parent to make sure she keeps doing it. Some of this will be with gentle reminders, but more so with how I carry myself in everyday life. At some point my cajoling and her own instincts might not be enough. She’ll need role models. I want to be one.
My neighbor and I will never be friends. I mean we’ve spent four plus years living within thirty yards of each other and that head nod the other day was just about the extent of our relationship. But the point is to not give up on being human beings. Keep pushing it. Keep saying hello. Keep striking up conversations. Avery seems to understand this as part of her DNA, not necessarily as something she’s learned. And I think all kids are born this way. We just train them to put the walls up. Hopefully Avery will help me work on de-engineering those boundaries. Maybe I’ll be the one walking down the street, passing another family and she’ll gently remind me, “Daddy, wave hi.”
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