|Aunty and nephew playing up a storm!
The sky interjected with strong sun beams that summer morning, surely heralding the joyous day to come.
I'd just returned to the UK after an extended work assignment abroad and could finally catch up with family. This meant visiting my big cousins in northwest London and finally getting to meet my 2-year-old nephew for the first time. I'd already seen photos of the little guy growing from babbling baby to toothy-grinned toddler. Now I was excited to see if the personality coming through in his 2D renderings were also true of his 3D self. Upon arriving at their home, the little guy did indeed meet all expectations being mega cute, chatting loads already, and emitting lots of happy vibes. His home was a sea of toys and we soon selected one and made the living room floor our land of playtime. His mum was glad for our interaction as it gave her time to focus on a pending work project. Always a bit of a chancer, she then asked if I'd take our playtime outside for fresh air at the local park.
My mouth interjected, ‘NO!!’, accompanied by my wide eyes and furrowed brow.
Surprised at my sudden total apprehension, his mum asked why? I fired back,
'He might fall down!'
'Or a car might hit him!!'
'Or someone might grab him!!!'
'No, I don’t want to take him outside!!!!'
In that moment, I was having the aunty version of what mothers experience immediately after childbirth. Going into overprotection overdrive from the big, bad world for their new little one that’s just arrived. Except whilst his mum had had 2 years for that over-apprehension to somewhat dissipate, mine had just kicked in big time. Seeing my clear discomfort from taking him out of the safety of her 4 walls, his mum relented. But also seeing her clear tiredness, I reversed my assertion, decided to be brave and venture out with the little guy. He was entrusted to my care, so for now, he would be my young one.
|Aunty and nephew on way to park
Stepping out of the door, my attention distribution inhabited an interesting dichotomy. In my eye periphery, all guns were blazing in case anyone tried to mess with us. Though in my eye focus, all cylinders were firing with love bugs towards my nephew: bombarding him with speech describing our surrounding residential world to activate his mind and showering him with praise when he named his colours and shapes right to activate his heart.
|London park playground
After 5 minutes, we reached the local park, a nice patch of extensive greenery with lots of colourful playground apparatus near the entrance gate. My young one knew exactly what to do in this new land of playtime and I soon had him swishing on the swings, bouncing on the seesaw, and swirling on the roundabout. One of my spins was a bit too strong though and he almost lost his balance causing him the same apprehensive look I'd had back at the house. Before he could break into a full-on cry, we left the swirly roundabout and headed for the stoic bench. There we sat so my young one could get his bearings, holding him close in a squeezy hug, telling him how brave he was.
|Lime-green leaves serenely swaying
A gentle breeze interjected, rustling sunlit lime-green leaves in its wake.
We sat a while absorbing the parkland serenity when another family arrived through our same entrance gate. It was a father with his own young ones in tow: a daughter circa 9 and son circa 7 years old, all with Scandinavian vibes being very blond-haired and blue-eyed. This parent clearly had the same idea as my cousin of giving the kids a chance to stretch their legs playing around outside. So they began doing just that on the flat turf in the playground corner. By this time, nephew wanted to try the climbing frame and I stood by him diligently making sure he didn’t slip despite the rubber surface below ready to insulate any fall.
|Blond-haired, blue-eyed father, daughter and son
As always, it was nice seeing other people at parks, with each group’s fun times amplifying everyone else’s joy. When certain jubilant vibes expanded beyond each familial bubble, some park goers usually comment on other groups enjoyment as they play around.
'Hey, good tackle!'
'Hey, nice kick!'
'Hey, you did it!'
And this distant, friendly banter might well also be needed for the new additions in the playground corner as they started a fervent game of rounders. The smiling father started giving a full-on commentary of the proceedings as the son threw ball here, the daughter batted ball there, the son bombed it after the ball, the daughter bombed it to the next base, the son got the ball, the daughter was too fast and had already made it safe to home base, yay! Though this particular cheerful rounders commentary and laughter kept throwing me for a loop. Why? Because this Scandinavian-esque family in this northwest London park were speaking in fluent Japanese.
|Surprise hearing Japanese speakers
My brain interjected, ‘huh?’
Now, an East Asian family speaking fluent Japanese in a London park, okay. A blond-haired, blue-eyed family speaking fluent Japanese in a Tokyo park, fine! But this blond-blue family communicating entirely in East Asian fluency in our Western European surroundings got me doing quite a bit of rubbernecking. So, now my attention distribution inhabited a new dichotomy. In my eye/ear focus was still the cuteness overload that was my nephew clamouring on the climbing frame. But in my eye/ear periphery was the curiosity overload of the backstory of this European family's Japanese aptitude.
|Japanese family playing in the park
After a while, my little one decided he wanted to try the slide. With its gentle slope and elevated edges it was safer than the climbing frame, so my peripheral rubbernecking of the curious family slightly increased as they continued their latest round of rounders. By that time, it was the brother who ran to base, beating his sister there. With that, their amplified joy caused mine to spill over and I said with a huge smile on my face, 「 hayai sugi!」, declaring ‘too fast!’ in Japanese. And in that moment, suddenly their game slowed down as they clocked I understood the language too.
Scandinavian-esque father, daughter and son’s brains clearly interjected, ‘huuhhh?!!’
Though unlike my brain interjection leading to curiosity, rubbernecking and smiles; their brain interjection led to silence, no eye-contact and deadpan faces. Without saying a word to me or each other, they stopped their game, held fast to their bat & ball, and slowly began walking towards the same park gate they had entered through. The fun had completely left their beings and it was time to leave our shared land of playtime asap. The change happened so quickly that I was still smiling widely at them, waiting for...I'm not sure what. Perhaps a little banter on how each non-Japanese party had come to acquire the East Asian dialect. Maybe the father’s career had taken him to the far east where his kids were exposed to the language from my nephew’s infant age. Maybe I could then share I’d spent my final secondary school years in Japan after winning a scholarship from the Japanese embassy in central London just a few tube stops away. But all that happened was, as the mute father followed his mute kids towards the gate, he momentarily jolted his head towards me, gave me a half sarcastic smile/half annoyed sneer, before exiting the park.
|Blond-haired, blue-eyed sneer(!)
My brain interjected, ‘What the…?!??’
What had just happened? Why hadn’t the fact that my Japanese fluency matching theirs been met with a jolly ‘hey, that’s cool, we understand each other’ rather than a dejected, ‘we have to get out of here asap…’, leaving the good vibes amongst the sunlit lime-green leaves rustling in the gentle breeze behind? I started brainstorming. Speaking Japanese for that family was some kind of bonding agent, something special that they could do that no one else could. Hey, I get it, I used Yorùbá the same way with my family growing up in the British north. The difference being, meeting other Yorùbá speakers was always welcomed with great excitement...whereas here, meeting another Japanese speaker was rejected with shift contempt if not ‘alarm’. The fact that they had seen a Nigerian woman with her small child as the only other park inhabitants probably meant they felt safe in their unique linguist bubble that no one else could penetrate. That was probably true for their fellow European Londoners, surely even more so of this African Londoner too! But no, I had penetrated their lexical bubble of grammatical safety and phonetic security, and some sort of ‘panic’ had ensued. In that public British park, my Yorùbá-Nigerian self had somehow broken into that blond-blue family’s private Japanese home.
|Surprise hearing Yorùbá speakers
My mouth interjected, hmmm…
My periphery now being empty, my full focus went on my young one. He had been oblivious to the corner family throughout, enjoying himself too much running to the slide ladder, climbing to the platform, then slipping down the shiny metal sheet to the bouncy rubber ground over and over again. His smiling face emulating pure delight reset my own smiling face that had momentarily sported a furrowed brow whilst pondering the odd interaction. I was happy my nephew hadn’t picked up on the Japanese-speaking blond-blue family’s vibe. London was supposed to be a multicultural haven, an ethnic salad bowl of social cohesion. He would have enough negativity directed towards him walking the world as a Black person, best for him not to clock that such social rejection could also apparently come from being friendly in Asian languages(!) Indeed, of all the things I’d initially been worried about happening to him outside the comfort and safety of his mum home, it’s fair to say that was the least probable that my overactive imagination could have stretched to.
|Happy nephew still enjoying the park
My young one interjected, ‘I’m tired!’
Okay, time to take nephew home.
He still had some residual bounce as he skipped along the pavement during the 5-minute stroll to his front door. I then delivered him back to his mother, filled with fresh air, fresh fun and sleepy eyes. I had done my aunty job well as he drooped off to bed, giving his mum more resting time. Soon afterwards, I bade my cousins goodbye and headed out to return home. By that time, the sun was setting on my day of tangentially encountering rising sun land. The interesting events swished, bounced and swirled in my mind as I ventured into the global village contained in one city: multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-parkland London.
My memory interjected, ‘Well, I won’t be forgetting that anytime soon!’