Recently my daughter joined a new soccer team. We live in a different town than the rest of the young girls and are new to the club. We are outsiders.
At her first game, I walked onto the field and noticed small pockets of parents chatting with each other. Normally, I am fairly outgoing. I readily introduce myself to strangers, and I’m an expert at small talk. But something about the situation made me feel self-conscious. My husband was at my older daughter’s game, so I sat alone in my folding chair, head buried in my phone, I just couldn’t get up the nerve to approach the small circles of parents ten feet away from me.
Three games later, it was the same. I smiled and nodded at some of the parents who looked familiar as I lugged my chair over to my spot, but my husband and I sat off by ourselves.
Right before the game started, I noticed a man shaking hands with a mom about eight chairs down. Then he moved to the next set, and then the next. When he arrived at the family beside me, I heard him say, “Hi there, I’m Joy’s dad. I just wanted to introduce myself since we don’t really know anyone on the team. I know the games about to start, but who is your daughter again? What number?”
Finally, he approached me, and we exchanged pleasantries. He opened his chair next to mine and excitedly exclaimed, “I haven’t been able to get to any games before this, so I’m stoked. What school do you guys go to?”
We chatted intermittently for the rest of the game, and then afterwards, instead of every family immediately heading off to their individual cars, people mulled around a bit. One dad came up to our new friend, and then introduced himself to us. I saw a woman standing off to the side, and pulled her into our circle by mentioning I thought her daughter played a great game. Another mom joined to chat about an upcoming tournament. Before I knew it, the entire team’s parents stood in a group introducing themselves to each other.
That dad is a circle breaker. He changed the entire dynamic of the sidelines in two minutes. It was powerful.
I like to think of myself as a circle breaker. It’s easy for me. I will talk to anyone who will listen, I like to think I know a little about everything, and because I’ve moved around quite a bit, I’ve broken into mom circles in four states. I even have little circle-breaking children.
But we’ve all been there, been in that awkward situation where it just seems like the other person isn’t interested in you. Either their head is in their phones (guilty), they seem entrenched in another conversation, or their body language screams, “Stay away!”
But if there’s ever been a time for circle breaking, it’s now.
This weekend, we took a trip to Medieval Times for a belated birthday dinner outing for one of my daughters. Our minivan pulled to a stop about 11 rows from the building. The parking lot was well lit, and my husband jumped out of the minivan and started walking to the entrance. He called out over his shoulder, “You have the keys, right?”
I sighed. Keeping track of keys to a car with an automatic starter is exhausting. I stood by the side of my car rummaging through my purse, finding gum wrappers, pencils and store receipts, but no keys. Just as my hand wrapped around the metal key chain, I heard a frantic voice speaking to my three daughters and their friend who congregated just in front of our automobile.
“I am trying to get here,” she pointed to the screen on her phone. “But I can’t get the address right. Do you know the address here?”
The woman wore a hijab, and a small girl clung to her coat, peering up at the older girls with huge brown eyes.
I approached the woman and asked, “Do you need help?”
She responded, “Yes, please. I need to get here,” she pointed to a red dot on her phone. “And I am very lost. I have been waiting for someone to come out, but it has only been men or large groups and I did not feel comfortable. Two women said they could not help me.”
I told her the address of our location, and she breathed a sigh of relief as directions popped onto her screen.
We chatted for a moment longer, and then I asked, “Can I walk you to your car? Do you need anything else?”
“No thank you. I am okay now. Thank you for your kindness.” And with that she was gone, dragging her daughter behind her.
I wondered to myself how long she waited in the parking lot for the right woman to approach. I was happy my husband rushed ahead, and I was there for her. I felt for a brief moment, we were part of the same circle.
Our country is off its rocker right now. There is violence occurring in the name of hate and violence occurring in the name of love and violence for the sake of violence. Families are fractured by political divides and neighbors who were once friends now avoid each other’s eyes.
If there was ever a need for circle breakers, it is now.
I think about how awkward it felt for me to approach a group of parents, a group where we all shared a common interest in our daughters’ soccer team. And then I think of how difficult it must feel when there are true differences between you and other people, when the circles seem impenetrable because they are made of steel.
Now is the time to reach out. Now is the time to include. Now is the time to put our phones away and interact with the people in our kids’ schools, community and work places. If we don’t want to be a country divided, someone will have to break their circle open. It has to start somewhere.
I’m not saying every time you’re chatting with your friends you have to ask someone in; BUT be aware. When you see someone hanging off to the side nervously checking their phone, think about introducing yourself or even offering an inviting smile. When you see a new person at school, attempt to strike up a conversation, no matter how awkward you feel. And when you see someone who needs help, give it.
I hope more parents become circle breakers like the dad on my daughter’s soccer team. And I hope we become more approachable to people who may be fearful of prejudice, people unsure of the world right now. I hope we lead by example for our children on how to build relationships, build a community, build a positive life.
I forgot how easy it was to be a circle breaker. I forgot that most circles are tissue thin, if you just introduce yourself or make the first move.
More importantly, I forgot how easy it is to bust circles from the inside, just by being the one to let someone in. Most times when someone starts breaking the circle, everyone else follows happily along. I particularly like to show circle breaking off in front of my children. It seems to make their force even stronger.
Now is the time for circle breaking. Are you in?