I’m writing this while waiting for my husband to return from the doctor, so that I can take pH to a playdate. There was another one yesterday, and I am happy pH is happy. She was recently treated badly by her oldest friend, and it’s good to see new friends taking that spot in her heart.

“Playdate.” What a word. I remember when there were neighborhoods full of kids and we just went over to each others’ houses and played or rode bikes or explored the woods. The closest thing I can recall to a playdate was being dropped off at a more distant house while my mother had to do errands. When I was really young and one of my parents was seeking yet another graduate degree, another kid and I didn’t play “doctor,” we took turns playing “bury.” One pretended to be dead, on the ground with a blanket covering the body, and another pretended to be the minister, intoning some pablum for the imaginary mourners. Then we’d swap.

The average age on my block is, I’m guessing, 60+, and that’s averaging in pH. My neighbors on either side are in their 70s. The woman who is about to die two doors down is of indeterminate age.  When we moved in, she was a heavy smoker and drinker of truly prodigious quantities of cheap lite beer, judging by the empties she’d pack in her trunk in the morning. At the time, I was more offended anyone drank that stuff in this town.

We’ve watched her waste away this last year.

Now a sign with “DANGER: OXYGEN” hangs on her door. Hospice comes. There’s so much irony there, and even with a robust sense of dark humor and a sick attitude about death, I can’t bring myself to be amused. According to a lady in her 80s (several doors down) who saw me smiling and laughing while interacting with pH and her imaginary Pokemon, it’s not proper for me to display any sort of mirth while the woman two doors down is dying. I would make a crack about dour Presbyterians (which she is) except that I come from a long line of them and they knew how to laugh just fine, and one of them was an undertaker who was late to his own wedding because he had to pick up a body.

I figure I come by my cockeyed views the old fashioned way: genetics and epigenetics. (And what passed for nurture in my family.)

The dying woman was never nice to me, except for the one time she wanted free legal advice. She snarled at pH. She ignored us the rest of the time, and that was fine. I don’t mind neighbors I can ignore; she never handed out candy for Halloween (but her light would not turn off, so she always left a sign saying she was not handing out candy but her light was broken). She has been well cared for by her church (I think they are Catholic, since I got off on a religious tangent before). She has family. Once I opened the neighbor’s door for her cousin who couldn’t do it, because she, too, has cancer and was weak. That she has people who look after her speaks well to her or to her social structure. Those are blessings, either way.

Now the non-religious tangent. The problem with atheists is they don’t seem to generate the same sort of support networks churches do. Members often have the same obnoxious zeal as any new converts to religion, which means I find talking to them tedious. Zealots exhaust me. The few times we’ve tried to attend a skeptic or non-theist event kH and I were put off (“This is just like church coffee hour,” I whispered to kH once, who replied, “It’s just as bad as Congregationalist coffee hour.”) My daughter has a Biblical name, by which I mean to say, it is not a person’s name, but it is in there and you’ll know it. Listen for the horrified gasp from the non-theist (who shares a name with an archangel; I should have asked why he didn’t change his to “Dawkins” upon rejecting the deity), and you’ll understand why we decided not to go back.

Sometimes kH and I discuss joining the LDS church when we’re old for the social services, the way we discuss converting to Catholicism for the tuition break for pH. Half-seriously, half-ironically. Perhaps we’d be better off crafting a social services and education net for non-theists…the sort that doesn’t judge a child’s name or think it’s okay for women to be sexually harassed at conferences. The sort that brings food even to unlikeable people who snarl at children, or mock their Biblical names.

Ah, well. That’s enough of that. There’s a reason I went another route with my education.

For now: another playdate. Child networking and social interaction on the most basic, most fundamental level, put together based upon shared interest. Old fashioned, except I must chauffeur.