Military Life · Parenthood

Every Conversation I’ve Ever Had at the Playground


I thought I could make a flow chart to illustrate every conversation I’ve ever had at the playground here. Then I remembered that my spare time is precious and decided to bag it. Here’s a summary.

There’s a battery of questions regarding the children we’re with, covering age and mobility and preschool enrollment. Once American vs. non-American identity is discerned from the other parent’s accent, the conversation will follow a predictable path.

We’re The Americans to the Brits, and “another one of us” to the other Americans. As such, we’re unmistakably with “the forces” and assumptions are immediately made.

Regardless of the nationality of the other parent (assuming they speak English), which base we’re attached to and where we’re originally from will always come up.

I’m up to date on how long we’ve been here (2 years and 9 months!) and how long until we leave (90 days!). There are some things we like about living in England and some things we really miss. Yes my oldest IS in British preschool and he loves it. And it really is too bad the sun didn’t stay out.

When you reach this point in a conversation with an American, you ask about travel plans. You ask for Important Things to Know about YOUR travel plans. You complain about what a pain in the ass it is to fly out of Heathrow. You agree that it’s so nice to be close to Europe, but there just isn’t time to see everything, and that even though the kids won’t remember any of it, it’s still worth muscling through. You ask if she used the Play Pass.

If you get there with a local, you ask if they’re originally from the area and if they have family nearby. You agree that it’s so nice to have family nearby, and that yes it is hard to be so far from yours.

Then it’s nap/snack/dinner time for one or both of you and you go home.

It’s a strange feeling to be so easily pegged. Saying “Hi, how are you?” (at least in the 1-hour radius around the bases) is the same as saying “Hi, I’m a foreigner and my husband is in the military.” It’s such a shift from our time in midtown Omaha, when I was just another Midwestern young professional who was involved in the community and whose husband happened to be in the Air Force. Not that it’s all bad; some people really enjoy talking about the history of the area (i.e. there’s a closed-down WWII bomber airfield across the street from our house) and are eager to share their stories (i.e. the barber who got to hold some of the Mildenhall Treasure) when they discover we’re here with the Air Force.

I suspect our neighborhood in Montgomery will be fairly accustomed to military families coming and going, too. I also suspect that most conversations will be just as superficial, since we all know we’re moving on in a year. I’m curious to see where the conversations end up, though, since it’s probably pretty unlikely that any of us will be planning trips to Paris or Rome or getting ready for Baltic cruises. Or maybe I’ll just go back to work and avoid it altogether.


8 thoughts on “Every Conversation I’ve Ever Had at the Playground

  1. It shocked me at first when we moved back to the US after living in Germany. There were people who had never been overseas! I was so used to everyone I knew being in Germany, traveling or at least exploring some of the local areas.

  2. Julie, I’m sure that will take some getting used to! We’re eager to explore Alabama, now that we’re used to doing that here. I wonder how long it will take the novelty of it to wear off :) My husband made a good point: it doesn’t matter where you’re traveling to as long as it’s someplace new. Even if it’s a state park or little museum!

  3. This reminds me of two things:

    First, when I was a freshman in college, an upperclassman friend of mine warned me: “Just watch. Your conversations for the first three weeks of entering school will all revolve around, ‘What’s your name?’ ‘What dorm are you staying in?’ and ‘What’s your major?'”

    He was spot on right.

    It was like the script of incoming freshman, the small talk questions that everyone asked in order to categorize, to peg and to find some sort of connection with.

    The second thing is that this doesn’t change much into adulthood. Now, it’s parenting: “How old is he? Does he sleep through the night?” All the stuff we ask because we have in common.

    I don’t mind it much, as it does steer conversation somewhere. It’s still funny though because it’s totally stranger small talk. I’d never just jump in and talk about my crappy day, or the show I watched on television last night. So it’s sort of like a dance, a conversation of getting to know one another.

    I imagine being so different from your environment (accent-wise) can get annoying after a while. I’ve yet to be in a situation where I was deemed an outsider, so I can only imagine how easily pegged you are once they hear your accent!

  4. I’ve had fun reading your blog today! We would love to go to England (from Offutt) so we’d be following your same path! And I *totally* agree about playground conversations (although mine are usually Chick-Fil-A conversations). We obviously don’t have the cultural aspect, but my conversations are always something about ages of children, how long you’ve lived here, if you’re AF, what job in the AF, etc. :)

  5. Even without children I often feel I have similar conversations being a military spouse overseas. This was a great blog I could relate to!

  6. Here, when you see anyone who isn’t Asian (or even an Asian person speaking English), the first question is: “So who is your husband with? How long do you have left? Idk how the commissary can only stock rotting produce, but let me tell you the market where I get cheap strawberries.” Or some variation of that. Because our town is so small, it’s not at all likely to see a white/black/Hispanic person here “just because.” There is no doubt that they are somehow affiliated with the Army post. And while I never thought about it, it IS interesting how the conversations flow in an overseas military setting. Thanks for bringing that up. :)

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