Smartmom is no Blanche DuBois

The Brooklyn Paper
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Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’s famous play, “A Streetcar Named Desire” says, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

But Smartmom begs to differ.

It’s the strangers who turn into friends that Smartmom depends on. And that’s what micro-community is all about. Indeed, it’s the small community groupings that form within a larger community that make it such a soulful place to live.

Here in Park Slope, there are many intersecting micro-communities brought together by blocks, schools, civic causes, PTA’s, cafes, running in the park, dogs, the Y, the Community Bookstore.

Smartmom was reminded of this last week when she got a call from a friend with the sad news that a mutual friend’s father died suddenly on Rosh Hashanah.

In less than an hour, e-mails were flying back and forth about carpooling to the funeral in Westchester and where people could send money in their friend’s father’s name.

This spontaneous show of love and support impressed Smartmom. It is during tough times that the small gestures of friendship mean so much. A card. Flowers. A phone call. It helps to know that your friends are ready, willing, and able to do whatever needs to be done.

This particular micro-community of women became friends at PS 321. Smartmom met one of them in a rambunctious playgroup that convened in Smartmom’s living room when the Oh So Feisty One was an oh so feisty 1.

She and Smartmom have been friends ever since. They now share a therapist, a meditation circle, and numerous cosmetics catalogs.

Smartmom’s writer’s group is another one of these micro-communities. On 9-11, when the firefighter husband of one of the writer’s in the group perished at the World Trade Center, the members sprung into action to do whatever they could to help their friend and her son.

In the 10 years they’ve been meeting, this group of writers have supported one another through the thick and thin of death, divorce, the quest for an agent, and writer’s block.

Then there’s the micro-community of the moms that Smartmom met when OSFO was in pre-school at Congregation Beth Elohim. At least four times a year, they meet for a “mom’s dinner.” These hard-to-schedule events are cherished as a chance to catch up and share what’s going on.

Last summer, only three of them managed to get together for a quick dinner at Sette one humid night. But that meant a more intimate conversation and more Italian rosé to go around.

While nibbling on the restaurant’s delicious and decadent Parmesan fritters, Smartmom fretted because she didn’t know where Teen Spirit was going to high school in the fall. History Mom, a teacher at a Manhattan private school, told her about a school (let’s call it “Hippie School”) that would be perfect for him.

“Call them,” she said. “I just have a feeling it might be a good fit.”

Smartmom knows enough to listen to her smart friend. When she called Hippie School the next day, nobody picked up the phone. Later, she tried the cellphone number listed for Hippie School’s parent coordinator.

The principal answered and the rest is history. Apparently his Blackberry was broken and he’d borrowed the parent coordinator’s cell. Coincidence? Fate? You be the judge.

Teen Spirit is now enrolled at this unique school, and Smartmom got History Mom a bouquet of flowers from Zuzu’s Petals.

“I didn’t do anything!” History Mom exclaimed.

“Yes, you did! Your suggestion set it all in motion. It’s all because we got together for dinner the other night,” Smartmom said.

Then there’s the ad-hoc micro-community that is Third Street (on the north side between Sixth and Seventh Avenues). Last Spring, when a neighbor was dying of cancer, neighbors shared their shock and grief and tried to figure out how to be of help. It was one of the most difficult things this micro-community has had to face.

Sometimes, there is pain. But more often there are shared bottles of wine, impromptu BBQs and sidewalk conversations.

The other evening, Smartmom saw a Third Streeter saying goodbye to her son as he got into a car bound for college in upstate New York.

Smartmom watched as this strapping young man she’s known since he was 5 hugged his mother and brother. While she did shed a tear, she knew enough not to interrupt this moment of tenderness.

Listening. Caring. Networking. Yenta-ing. Wanting to solve one another’s problems. That’s what micro-community is all about.

Sometimes it’s just about watching or listening. A micro-community grows together and offers love and support as needed. It’s about knowing when to help and when not to intrude. Subtle. Heartfelt and real: these micro-communities are a source of strength.

So Blanche, it’s not the kindness of strangers. It’s the strangers who become friends that are worth believing in.

Louise Crawford, a Park Slope mom, also operates “Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn.”
Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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