We walked to school today, as is our wont on a Monday. The big kids scooted and I wheeled C in her pushchair. It was cold, the sky was threatening rain.
Partway up the street adjoining ours, my 6-year-old skidded her scooter in the guttering of small stones with which one neighbour has decided to line his property boundary. Instantly he was out his front door, barking, "Hey! Get offa my STONES! Now I gotta sweep that UP!" and glaring at her.
"Sorry," said the 6-year-old hastily, and took off after her big sister. I gave him a cool glance and said, "I'm pretty sure it was accidental, but nonetheless, I apologise for your stones being disarranged." (If you are reading this as a classic non-apology, well, you'd be right ;-)
"Yeah, well ..." he muttered and moved off to get a broom.
A little further up, a family was saying goodbye at the doorway. My girls, waiting for the toddler and I to catch them up, were intrigued with the burqa being worn by the woman bidding farewell to a man and some kids. Entirely familiar with hijab (being at a school with a sizeable Muslim population, a goodly percentage of their friends' mums wear it, and some wear chador too), the girls have nevertheless rarely seen a full burqa being worn.
"How can she see, Mum?" asked the 6-year-old as we moved on.
"There's eyeholes, E. I saw them," interpolated the 8-year-old.
"Mmmmm," pondered E thoughtfully. Then: "Does she wear it to the shops too?"
On the road to school, the girls paused at a house where a young woman with severe intellectual disabilities lives with her elderly parents. They stopped, as they often do, to wish this woman a good day; she responded, as she always does, with a smile, stroking of my 6-year-old's hair, and pleased noises.
"Why can't she talk?" asked A, the 8-year-old, as we progressed.
"I think she is intellectually disabled, sweetheart," I said. "Her brain doesn't work in the same ways that yours does. Some things, like talking, might be very hard or impossible for her to learn."
"Is it like autism, then?" A has several peers at school and among family friends on the autism spectrum.
"No, not really ..." I said, at a bit of a loss to find the right words. "It's different to autism. Can I think a bit more about how to explain it, and get back to you?"
Passing the small shops, which includes a bottle-o, we saw a middle-aged man who's often hanging around waiting for the shop to open at around this time. We have never seen him not-drunk, and today was no exception.
"Hall-oooooooo!" he hollered at us from across the street, grinning. "'S cold a-day, innit?"
A smiled at him and E, who doesn't like being addressed by strangers, took my hand.
"Tis that," I replied, and we kept moving.
A dog barked furiously, and then tailed off as a human, behind one of the fences, launched a barrage of verbal abuse at it. My girls frowned, and the toddler whimpered.
We met up with other groups walking to school ...
the one-adult-one-child contingent;
the grandparents with multiple grandchildren;
the foster parents, shepherding a duckling chain of charges;
the mums in business suits, bestowing kisses and lunchbox checks at the gate;
the dads in reflective work gear, laughing at their kids' jokes;
the tracksuit-wearing, hair-unbrushed, WAH clump (of which I am part).
As I kissed my big girls goodbye, E commented that we always seem to meet such a lot of different people when we walk to school. She's right. When you walk a neighbourhood, you see it all, every bit of it, with all its warts and in all its glory. Cranky people, kind people, funny people, friendly people, people who have challenges, people who make bad decisions. These are the people in our neighbourhood, and they're what makes it real.