As often as I can, I try to take my daughter to the local park in Jakarta, where we live. To get there, we have to cross a major traffic artery, navigating broken sidewalks and gaping holes. When we arrive, the playground is hot and dusty, the equipment a little rusted and a lot worn down.
This playground does not attract Stella's usual playmates. They’re usually all in the malls hanging out in padded indoor playgrounds that cost 10 dollars a visit. But I feel it's important to play outside, so off we go, dust and heat notwithstanding.
We arrive at the park and swing languidly in the hot afternoon sun. Then, a group of school kids join us, filling the park with shrieks and giggles. They're eyeing us, clearly interested in this curly-haired foreign kid, but a little shy. Finally one boy digs deep into his fledgling English vocabulary and shouts, "Hello Baby!" and that's all it takes. The kids exchange names and ages, and they’re officially fast friends.
The big kids push Stella on the swing, carefully and gently. They lift her down, take her hand, and run toward the slide. A couple of girls help her up the play structure and across the wobbly bridge, holding her hand and making sure she's not afraid. The older kids charge down the slide first, and wait for Stella, arms outstretched to catch her. The whole gaggle of kids takes off at a run, across the grass and through the trees.
I watch as friendship is forged without a shared, verbal language. The school kids offer encouragements to Stella in Bahasa and Stella gives them directions in English. “Let’s go here! Help me!” For the most part, neither the big kids nor Stella really understand what the other is saying. But it doesn't matter. They point and gesture. They make do. They have fun.
My daughter has almost nothing in common with these kids. They don't look the same. They don't eat the same foods. They have different cultural values and different beliefs.
But none of this matters when you're three and you just want to hold hands with a friend and have someone sit next to you as you zip down the slide.
Afternoons like this are pure magic. Watching my child reach across culture and language to spend an hour of playground fun with kids so vastly different than she, well, it makes my mom-heart swell with pride. And it's a great reminder to me, that the things that might hold us apart don’t really matter when there are slides to slide, and swings to swing, and joy to be shared together.
Erica Knecht is a mother, writer, and professional nomad, currently based in Jakarta, Indonesia. When not gallivanting across Asia with her toddler in tow, she writes about the lighter side of tri-cultural parenting on her blog expatriababy.com