I went to Ruby’s 4th and 5th grade end-of-the-year class picnic yesterday. The clouds couldn’t decide what they were doing. It was sunny, with a cool breeze, most of the time. Hordes of kids chased a soccer ball. Others queued up for the swings. One white Maltese got walked, a lot.
I found Ruby at a picnic table. She’d already started on her pre-packaged pb&j, courtesy of the hot lunch program.
“Hey, Ruby,” I said as I started to sit. I nodded hello to the sandy-haired boy across from us.
“Hi,” he said, shooting up and sticking out his right hand. “My name is Peter*,”
I blinked a couple of times. Huh?
“Hi, Peter,” I said, taking his hand. Couldn’t leave him hanging. “My name is Susan.”
“Nice to meet you, Susan,” he said, smiling. “I’m the son of Peter Johnson, of Peter Johnson Realty.”
“Oh, right. I know who he is.”
We both sat down.
“I like your manners,” I said to Peter. Highly unusual in 10 year olds, I thought. What’s the angle? Is he into Ruby and trying to make a good impression with her mom?
“How’s your day going?” Peter asked me.
I smiled to myself. Good manners, part two.
“It’s going well. And you?”
“Good, so far,” he said.
We ate in silence for a few minutes.
“So,” Peter broke the silence. “What do you do?”
Um. I swallowed my bite of egg sandwich.
“I work for the city.”
“What do you do there?”
“I’m in public works, “I said. I explained about the water utility (briefly) and the roads, garbage service and the like.
“Oh,” he said. He paused a minute, chewing his sandwich. “Do your guys pick up the bags of trash by the side of the road, the ones picked up by the community service people?”
“No, “I said. “That’s all part of the court system, I believe.”
I chatted with Ruby about her lunch. She liked the cookie but left the carrot sticks alone. Somehow, she’d gotten too many of them in her young life. She may never eat another.
“What does your husband do?” persistent Peter asked.
“He works from home,” I said, hoping to shut this down. It was getting a leetle awkward. He wasn’t asking anyone else questions.
“Oh, “he smirked, “so he does laundry and cleaning. A house husband. Like that?”
“Oh no, baby. He’s got a doctorate. He works for a university, just does it from home.” So there!
Insert uneasy pause here.
“I have kind of a personal question,” he hedged.
What now, Pete, my boy?
“What religion are you?”
“Oh, I’m a Christian,” I said. Then added, “You know, in a couple of years, you won’t be able to ask that,” I stated, Mom warning face on.
“I know, ” he said, then sighed. “My parents told me talking about religion and politics make people uncomfortable.”
“You’re Mormon, right?” he said to the Hispanic boy on his left. The boy nodded.
“I’m a Christian, too, ” said the small boy in a hoodie balancing on a ball to Peter’s left.
So much for that.
“And you, Peter?”
“Yes, I’m a Christian, too. I attend Valley Christian Church,” he affirmed.
Ruby and I went off to check out the dogs at the dog park. But I wondered about Pete. Why all the questions? Is he an only child? Maybe the youngest in a long line of children, raised on grown up conversation? Future journalist in training, or simply precocious?
But really. What’s the fuss, after all? Can’t we ask questions and get to know each other’s true selves without freaking out? I don’t have to agree with what you believe or how you practice. But I don’t have to be a jerk about it. Heck, we could even become friends. We can say what we stand for and be accepted; no subterfuge required. Just ask Peter.
*Name changed to protect the curious.