Community Building for the Shy

A Reflection by Jennifer Collins, UU Congregation of Santa Rosa, March 12, 2017

Let me start by admitting that I am a shy person…

Throughout my life, I never had a huge circle of friends.  I always seemed too focused on school and work to make friends and be social.  Then, later, school was replaced with fixing up our old house and work was replaced by babies.  Up until the babies I worked mainly in agriculture or horticulture and so didn’t work in an office environment where “the girls” could go out on Friday after work for drinks or coffee.  In my jobs I worked alone or with just a few others in greenhouses or fields bent over the task at hand.  There were occasional parties I would be invited to but no true outside-of-work friends.  I didn’t really think about it much until I had kids and suddenly I realized I was all alone.  Well, not completely alone, but a tiny baby isn’t much of a conversationalist!

After my second daughter was born I made a concerted effort to find friends, especially ones with kids.  I approached women in the store with similarly aged kids and struck up conversations, I enrolled the kids in toddler soccer or gymnastics classes and tried new mothers groups, but nothing clicked.  I even tried Craigslist to find friends.  That was an interesting experience!  I discovered the UU but at the time there weren’t many other families with young children so I often came by myself and left quickly to get back home.

Then one day I had an epiphany.  My older daughter had started school and schools are full of kids who have parents!  Why not make friends with them?  One problem.  Most of the parents at my daughter’s school spoke only Spanish.  Hmmm….  Well, I can say “Hola,” and “buenos dias” with the best of them so I climbed out of my shyness and made a concerted effort to make my friend community there.  There was one lady in particular that lived on my street who had two kids the same ages as mine.  I used to wave enthusiastically at her and then cross the street to walk with her as we went to the school to pick up our kids.  It was usually in total silence and she seemed suspicious of my motives but, I felt progress was being made and I persevered.

I joined the Parent Club at the school and got super involved.  I bought Spanish books and tried to teach myself Spanish, then later took classes at the JC because I have terrible self discipline.  My neighbor and I became closer and I learned how to say her beautiful name, Eulalia, and that her daughter is named Jennifer, like I am.  We made small talk once in a while and that has grown into dinners at eachother’s houses and occasional coffees out on weekends.  Another mom’s daughter and mine became friends and so I though we could too.  Despite her serious demeanor and big sunglasses I struck up conversations with her while we waited outside the classroom for our girls to come out.  I learned her beautiful name, Xochilt, and it turned out she was taking English classes at the JC, so eventually we were helping each other with our respective homework!

I jumped in to help out at family nights at the school, doing all kinds of things, and there, a circle of parents who regularly helped out, formed a close community of friends.  It struck me later how easy it was to make friends once I opened myself up to the possibility, regardless of the imagined roadblocks.  These folks had been there all along and yet here I was looking at the grass on the other side, on Craigslist of all places!

Over the years several of us ladies have become very close and the language barriers have dropped away.  We have cried together, supported eachother and grown together.  Community is what you make it and where you make it.  I love my friends and am so thankful for the community we have built together.  In the current political climate I worry about them and I hope they know that, through our community, we will help each other to the end.