One of the more — ahem — glamorous aspects of my urban life is the weekly trip to the laundromat. While at times it’s a going-through-the-motions experience, sometimes I actually relish it. Once upon a time, when I had a more conventional work schedule and commuted to New York every day, I sent out my laundry. I’ve come to the conclusion I was missing out on an experience.
A few years ago while going to a laundromat owned by a Chinese-American couple, I would have these lively political and social conversations with the owner as she took a break from reading her Chinese newspaper or watching soap operas, also in Chinese. One day when I mentioned the Dalai Lama, this typically mild-mannered woman shrieked and told me he was burning babies on their birthday.
When that place closed, I started going to a laundromat where the television was blaring in Spanish. My first mission was to slowly connect with the icy, stoic woman who ran it. Over time I managed to get a smile and greeting from her. The crossing guard who occasionally takes a break in there likes to regale me with local happenings and I get a kick out of her, even if she is a fan of Snooki’s.
An experience while my clothes were swishing around this week was yet another reminder of what I was missing in those days when I sent out my wash. I sat in a chair quietly answering emails on my BlackBerry. After a few minutes I noticed a boy sitting on the floor next to me wedged between a vending machine and another chair. He was going to town on an iPhone.
“Hi, are you hiding?” I asked.
He looked up shyly and hesitated.
“No,” he said with a hint of a smile.
“What are you doing on your phone?” I asked.
“Writing,” he said.
OK, yes, I lit up like 42nd Street on a Saturday night.
Dark-haired with big eyes and wearing a soccer shirt, he stood up when he saw my reaction.
“What are you writing?” I asked.
He was now standing right at the arm of my chair. He showed me the screen and it was opened to a notebook app. He was indeed writing. I immediately saw it was in Spanish.
“Wow,” I said. “It’s in Spanish. I don’t understand Spanish. Can you help me understand what it’s about?”
He started to translate word by word, but then proceeded to tell me the story about a vampire in a more escalated fashion. I stayed with him through it, but finally had to ask.
“How old are you?”
“I’m eight,” he said.
“Do you like to write stories?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, nodding for emphasis.
Seeking to draw him out further, but sensing he was a little nervous talking about his writing, I asked him if he’d seen the United States women’s soccer team beat Canada the day before in the Olympics. He said he had.
“It was tied!” he said.
“Yes, it looked like it would stay that way,” I said. “Wasn’t that an exciting goal for the U.S.?”
He nodded and then told me about his team winning a game 10-0 once and how the goalie wasn’t paying attention. He was wide-eyed when relaying that, as if not paying attention was a very big lesson. Everything was a story with this boy. He shared music. He showed me maps.
What a delight. It kind of made me teary.
His father came over to see if he was bothering me and I saw he instantly picked up the positive vibe and left us. I found myself hoping that the built-in antenna that comes with parenting allowed this man to see that there was a gift here to encourage the heck out of and nurture. It’s the summer. This kid is writing in a corner of a noisy laundromat. On a device that also has games on it, to boot. His age hasn’t even hit double digits yet. Nice combo.
In addition, my mind went to all the people I know who would give almost anything to identify what their gifts are in adulthood, let alone at age 8.
It wasn’t until his parents got the car out front loaded, had his baby sibling and stroller packed away and started the engine that the little guy pulled himself away and said good-bye as he dashed out the door. I waved.
He taught me a few things. One, don’t assume a person, especially a young one, consumed in a smartphone is frittering away time. Two, my desire for people to use their gifts is so freakin’ hard-wired it amazes even me. And three, magical things can happen anywhere, anytime.
Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is www.nancola.com and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to GamePlan@gmail.com.