Small Talk

February 28, 2011 at 12:02 am | Posted in Lollipop | 21 Comments
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My Small Talker

The woman approached us pushing a purple jogging stroller and carrying a green cloth bag. She walked to the picnic table just to our right and began unbuckling complicated straps, re-securing Velcro shoes, and wiping noses. She helped a boy and girl out of the stroller and waved them toward the playground. “Have fun!” she said as she sat down.

With one eye, I casually watched this ritual (one I had performed countless times myself) as I entertained baby Bun on the patch of grass I had chosen. With the other eye, I mentally tracked Lollipop and Giggles as they scampered between the slides and the swings.

Cloudy with a Chance of Acorns
We sat quietly for a few moments before one of us started up a conversation. I can’t remember if it was her or me. We talked about the usual things: the weather, how crowded it was for a Friday, and whether we ought to report the broken scooper. In between the small talk, we tended to our little ones, dumping pebbles out of shoes, searching for dropped acorns, and refereeing trips down (and up) the slide.

“So how old is your little girl?” I asked.

“Oh, she’s 21 months, but she’s not mine,” the woman said. “I’m the nanny.”

The Sound of Silence
“Oh,” I said mildly. But my brain was in a tizzy. A nanny? In my neighborhood? On a Friday and this close to dinnertime? How long has she been the nanny? What does she really want to do? Does she have kids of her own? Does she love these kids like they’re her own? Do they listen better to her or to their parents? Is it a hard job? Is it fun?

I wanted to ask all of these questions. To find out more. To pry. But I didn’t. Instead, I shut my mouth. And could think of nothing else to say. Nothing.

We sat awkwardly for a few moments. I pulled out a snack for Bun, who wasn’t hungry and let me know it. But our collective brood sniffed the Cheerios in the air and all came running. I opened a package of graham crackers for Lollipop and Giggles, and the nanny peeled bananas. (Notice which one of us brought non-prepackaged snacks. Point: Nanny.)

The Banana Seat
Spotting the yellow manna, Lollipop stood up and approached the table. “Do you happen to have another one in your bag for me?” she asked. “Bananas are scrumptious. I’ll share my grahams. Here, have a graham cracker, little boy.” She handed him a square and plopped herself down at their table.

Long after the snacks disappeared and the others resumed dropping buckets of leaves down the slide, Lollipop sat and talked to the nanny. She told her about her brothers: their names, their birthday months, their favorite colors and foods. She asked a dozen questions when the nanny started to eat a strange, purplish fruit called a “nectarine.” She commented on the woman’s earrings and tennis shoes.

They talked for almost an hour, until I spotted pink, dusky clouds glowing between bare oak branches. I packed up our things while Lollipop and Giggles took two last turns each down the slide. Lollipop waved to the nanny and her charges. “Goodbye, friends! We’ll see you next time, okay?” she said. “Have a good night!”

Say Anything
I smiled and said I hoped we would see them again.

I meant it. The woman was nice. The kids had a good time together. No one threw (or ate) rocks. And Lollipop learned about nectarines.

But before next time, I need to brush up on my mingling skills. Or make a cheat sheet of conversation topics. Or bring a bunch of bananas. I need to do something, anything, to make words come out of my mouth.

Before my four-year-old beats me to it again.

Are you a playground small-talker? What do you talk about? Are your children more social than you? (And do they eat nectarines?)



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  1. I could talk under water, so ‘small’ talk quickly becomes ‘big’ talk with me. To begin with we chat about the little things happening around us… then, wherever it takes us. I SO would have asked her all the questions you had about her nannying. People are only too happy to chat about themselves. In fact, the secret is they LOVE IT.

    Of course, if it WAS prying, she would let you know. Easy! x

  2. Hi Stacia, so nice that you have a gregarious girl. No need to worry about awkward silence with her around. I like to ask nannies or other moms about all kinds of things: what the kids eat, whether they nap, what time they go to bed and wake up, what they like to do when they have free time, etc. But there are times when an adult isn’t all that willing to engage in conversation so it’s possible the nanny felt more comfortable chatting with Lollipop.

  3. I am a big time playground small talker, mostly because I am usually desperate for adult interaction throughout the day. I’d say in my neighborhood it’s probably fifty/fifty mommies and nannies. I find that most nannies are willing to chat about the same child-rearing milestones that moms in the park talk about. Many nannies around here are originally from other countries so I like to learn more about their countries and their own children. Most of my son’s preschool friends have nannies so there are four that I know really well and I’ve learned a lot from and really admire them.

    Being honest though, I am kind of lonely and often wish my paths crossed with more moms who might be interested in evening outings in addition to playdates.

    I know the lack-of-small-talk thing though — mine kicks in when we are at business events for my husband or if I am talking to someone who is intimidatingly perfect in her appearance.

  4. I talk easily until I don’t. When I don’t it’s usually because I’m nervous about something. I don’t feel I measure up. I’m secretly judging someone and I often don’t even realize it until later. So often my tight lips come from one extreme or the other: I’m not good enough/they’re not good enough. This is not something I’m fond of admitting. But, in bringing it out of the shadows and into the light, perhaps I can be gentle and make friends with this. Loving myself first allows me to love others. Sigh.

    Well, not sigh. Hooray. Because this is an easy fix. I can love myself every day. I have total control over that. See? getting to be friendly already. Oh the wonders your writing today inspired.


  5. I’m okay with small talk, but it’s been a struggle for me. I am normally a quiet introverted person, and I like it that way. It’s only as an adult, and even after college at that, that I have gotten into any type of groove as a conversationalist.

    Flora is MUCH more outgoing than I, and that’s fine with me, although I usually try to steer her away from giving out our home address. Kate is more physically outgoing, although she’s not a talker, she’ll just enthusiastically hug you about the knees.

  6. Small talk is difficult for me. I force myself to be friendly and start up conversations, but I always feel like they are forced. Luckily, if both parties have kids, there is usually something to talk about.

  7. I am not a chatter; my kids, however, behave just like your little charmer.

  8. I will talk to anyone – absolutely anyone – who will talk to me. Unless they’re crazy. And I’ll talk to crazy people longer than most. Encountering friendly strangers makes the world look like a better place to me – and on the flipside, unfriendly playground encounters ruin my day.
    Jack, on the other hand, would never strike up conversation with an unfamiliar adult – it’s hard to get him to talk to the ones he knows!

  9. My daughter is a chatter too and I admire her ability to go in head first without reservation and talk to absolutely anyone. It scares me a little too because I don’t want her talking to strangers when I am not around.

  10. Oh this made me smile. Unfortunately, I tend to ask loads of questions when I meet people because my curiosity gets the best of conventionality. Perhaps I need to take a lesson from your book! Or, maybe we could find a balance together.

  11. This post has such a ring of truth to it! Precisely how playground conversations go. For me, the parents there are usually ships passing in the night, so I rarely strike up conversations anymore. (Speaking of conversations, however, would you mind emailing me at amy(at)nevertruetales(dot)com? I have a question for you!

  12. I have experienced many silent moments, just like that. I suppose I prefer to not chat, unless I know the person. My kids are definitely more social than I am :).

  13. Oh, it all depends on the day. Somedays, I’m great at light and easy, some days I get deep. Or fall silent.

  14. I avoid playground chatter, but my youngest is known for asking every child if they will come home with her. If they say no, she’ll beg to go home with them. It’s her thing.

  15. Like Kelly I don’t spend much time chatting at the playground. It’s kind of odd really…because I live in the town I grew up in and often know the other people at the playground. But it seems high school habits die hard and sometimes people can’t get over old distinctions.

    I would be taken back too if I came across a nanny. It seems very foreign to me, even though my children spend their days in daycare. Now how odd is that?

  16. “But our collective brood sniffed the Cheerios in the air and all came running.”

    I may be a weirdo, but this was my favorite line! Cracked me up, out loud.

    I do interact with kids and adults at the park a bit, and unfortunately often find myself redirecting naughty wolf children who bully others. I usually say something pointed that makes them run away when they think there were no adult eyes or ears watching them… I admit it. And I’m a child care professional, off-duty in these instances.

  17. We are so alike. I don’t engage in conversations on playgrounds/parks very well. I feel like I should be saying something mom-ish and clever but I feel self-conscious, like everything’s going to come out like I’m trying too hard, or that it’s fake. So I just shut up and smile. And hope my daughter isn’t rude to their kids.

  18. I’m pretty chatty, out of adult-contact desperation usually. Sounds like Lollipop will be breaking the ice in Romania, so to speak.

  19. I am terrible at small talk, and my little one seems to be just like me when it comes to being content in his own little world. He’s only just turning two though, so I guess we have yet to see!

  20. I’ve had to acquire the skill of small talk over the years, but in general I avoid playground chit chat unless I am in an unusually good mood. I find it awkward, not knowing if the other parent wants to chat or for how long. But if the other person initiates I can run with it. I want my son to be chatty that way but he is not, at least not with adults. I think it’s great your daughter is so sociable – it’s a useful skill!

  21. Lessons from a four year old is not bad though. Kids are just so good at being natural. And that will serve you in Romania. 😉

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