This week has been a momentous one in our household. Our almost two-year old has started going to a local playgroup. Without me. Yup, I leave him there. For 3 hours.

Now, this may not seem momentous to you but it is pretty life-changing for all of us. It gives me the gift of time. It gives our rambunctious kid a chance to socialise. And it opens up our lives to a new experience.

The settling* in week has been fascinating.

{*settling in seems to be terminology for said child causing mayhem for a couple of days and then being fully indoctrinated into the playgroup system and refusing to come home with their parent. That’s my experience, at least).

One of the best parts for me has been that our boy is the only white British child in the playgroup. Each day, an assortment of children happily arrive who represent the world. All here in Newham. And I love it. I love that he has the opportunity to hear so many languages spoken. That he is surrounded by people of different skin colours, heritages, religions and stories. I want him to see it as normal.

As I chatted to one of the ‘new’ mums, it became clear how similar we are. We worry about whether they will make friends; whether they are learning at the ‘right’ rate; if we are giving them the best opportunities; if they are eating well; sleeping well. Having the chance to hear about someone else’s concerns and to share my own were lovely. The lovely mum happens to be Palestinian. She was worried that her English wasn’t good enough (I reassured her that my Arabic is awful ie. non-existent) and that she was somehow letting her child down by this. Oh, boy! You can imagine how much I wanted to give her a cuddle (don’t worry, I didn’t) and reassure her that she was a superwoman for even speaking one language, let alone two. It broke my heart a little bit that she felt she wasn’t doing the best she could do.

This brief conversation served as a reminder to me of the numerous similarities we have with the people we see as ‘different’ to us. It is an active choice to look for what unites rather than what divides us. What causes division is usually the very obvious: someone looks different to us; they speak a different language to us; they have a different religion or faith perspective to us; they have a different economic standing to us. These things tend to be more clear cut. We can see these differences. So, the choice we have to make is to decide whether those differences will be a distancing tool or not. We stick to our own. The people we look like, sound like, agree with. But in reality, we make those differences define us by isolating ourselves.

Looking to see what unites seems even more pertinent in this political climate. Being friendly to my Muslim neighbours didn’t seem a big deal before. It is what you do. You chat to your neighbours. Now, it feels hugely significant to make a concerted effort to check they are alright. That they aren’t somehow feeling unwelcome. That they feel equally safe and secure where we live. The great thing is, they do it for us too. That’s what neighbours are for, right? Looking out for one another.

Now, I’m not going to pretend that Newham is a utopia of different cultures all merging into one glorious, idyllic society. It isn’t. And it is hard to infiltrate groups which you don’t naturally belong to. Language barriers can make it hard to get to know one another. People can be wary of opening up (that’s regardless of background, by the way) and it takes time and effort to get to know people. It takes an active choice to expand our experiences. But, it feels important to do it. To start conversations even if they end quickly. We have so much in common with one another but we have to be prepared to find out what that is.

I’m looking forward to this new adventure. Oh, and discovering the joy of 6 hours to myself each week. Boom! #lookoutworld



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