When the quarantine began mid-March, our physical activity came to a screeching halt – no longer was I marking off 10,000 steps on my pedometer, my daughter wasn’t walking miles around her college campus, and my youngest son no longer had daily recess with his friends.
There wasn’t much we could do outside of our home. Gyms were closed, playgrounds roped off, sporting events cancelled, and everyone was encouraged to stay six feet away from everyone else. We were literally stuck in our home, our yard, and the confines of our neighborhood.
When we moved here more than a decade ago, it was common to find us pulling a red Radio Flyer wagon with one or two kids inside, sitting on a blanket, eating an Icee on a hot summer day. But now that my oldest is twenty-one and the youngest is almost in middle school, those wagon-pulling days are simply childhood memories, frozen in time.
Thinking about those days, we decided to take daily walks again to get some fresh air and exercise. We discovered it was nearly a mile round trip if we walked from our house to the small lake in the back of our neighborhood. Sometimes we walked during my lunch break since I was now working from home, other times we walked before dinner. A few times a week we did both.
We started to notice things we hadn’t seen before.
Prior to COVID-19, our lives were extremely busy. The calendar dates were filled with track meets, soccer practices, family events, and travel. The time spent in our neighborhood was minimal and almost always in a car. We drove out of the neighborhood to start our day; we drove back in when our day was done.
Yes, we knew our neighbors, but only the ones that lived closest to our home. We knew more children than adults simply because they had played outside with our kids. Most families stayed to themselves, their lives also caught in the mad dash of endless activities and obligations.
Then came the quarantine. Back to basics. Reset. We started walking again and discovered other neighbors doing the same. One week we noticed two neighbors with frog displays near their mailbox and on their porch, reminding me of my mom who collected frog things. Another week we marveled in the different variety of flowering trees and bushes we saw in bloom – dogwood, magnolia, azaleas.
Then we noticed the turquoise table.
It was a simple wooden picnic table with built-in benches, painted in a brilliant shade of turquoise, set to the right of our neighbor’s driveway. I had seen it before, in passing, but hadn’t given it much thought until the day my son said, “Hey mom – look! It’s the same color as your book!”
That’s when this whisper on my heart appeared.
“You should leave a copy of your book on the table.”
Now, if you know me well, you know that I have done some crazy things that may not seem to make sense in the moment, but somehow end up being the right time and place for someone else. I have learned how to recognize that whisper on my heart, but it has taken years to feel comfortable in following through with the action it prompts. Every time I passed by this table on our walks, I heard that whisper.
I didn’t know why.
I didn’t know these neighbors.
I only knew that I should act on that whisper.
So one day I gathered my courage, wrote a quick note, and placed my book in a ziplock bag. I left my book on their table, an introduction of sorts to the neighbors I had never met.
And that was that.
Or so I thought.
I quickly received a message from Linda, thanking me for the book and being kind in stopping by. I was delighted to know she had received it (and didn’t think I was an unstable neighbor to fear.)
Then one afternoon I heard the doorbell ring. The sound was so foreign after weeks of quarantine that I almost didn’t recognize it at first. “Who would be ringing my doorbell when everyone is on lockdown?”
This is how I finally met Linda and her husband, Jesse. They drove to my house in the rain to drop off a book for me to read – the story of how their turquoise table came to be.
What joy to have a new book to explore! I loved reading The Turquoise Table and learning how author Kristin Schell was inspired to open the door to conversations in her neighborhood by putting a turquoise picnic table in her front yard. She was nervous in stepping outside of her comfort zone, but felt this was her mission field – to provide a welcome space for all to enter. Her passion was even showcased on The Today Show as other people started putting turquoise tables in their front yards.
While I have not built a table in my own front yard, I have been connecting with neighbors, parents, and educators for authentic conversations during this unsettling and turbulent time, both in person and online. There have been many topics to discuss: COVID-19, distance learning, trauma, racism. I’ve had an opportunity to dive deeper in my own thinking and reflection while getting to know others on a more personal level, sparking much needed conversations about change that’s needed and how to push the needle forward to make that change a reality.
This past week, during a Zoom chat hosted by Buki Froelke with @ShareMobilizeNow, we listened to the experiences of Nicole Melameka, a Black business owner from Maryland who specializes in online hair care and beauty supplies. Nicole also operates a Mirax wig boutique and earned a six-figure income in her first year of business! Wow! As she described the barriers and systemic racism she encountered in trying to start her own business, owning a brick-and-mortar store, one statement she said resonated deeply with me:
“It wasn’t about having a seat at the table… I couldn’t even get in the room.”~Nicole Melameka
How many times have we repeatedly emphasized the need for all voices to have a seat at the table? Representation matters! But what are we doing as advocates when marginalized voices are not even allowed in the room?
We each need to do our part.
We need to listen.
I have greatly appreciated the invitation from Buki, Amber Coleman-Mortley, and Sharqi David to join in conversations with other moms, sharing perspectives where everyone is welcome. It’s been a safe place to face our vulnerabilities, ask questions, and reflect on experiences – good and bad. It’s helping me stretch my thinking and tackle those societal “truths” that aren’t so true after all.
Some prefer to converse in person.
Others prefer to connect online.
What matters most is the quality of the conversation.
Perhaps we need a few more turquoise tables in the world.
If you would like more information about the Zoom chats, visit https://bit.ly/ShareMobilizeNowZoom to register for the weekly conversation. You can also subscribe to Amber’s podcast “Let’s K-12 Better.“