Thursday, September 1, 2011

Won’t You Be My Neighbor

I grew up on Mr. Rogers. His button-up cardigans, house shoes and use of puppets teaching the best of humanity in their imaginary world was a staple in my afternoon.

Mr. Rodger’s loving singing voice and being raised in a small town went hand-in-hand in teaching me how wonderful a local community can be.

In the five years since my husband and I said “yes” to the Lord and began this family we’ve been apartment dwellers. We don’t like to maintain (or pay for) more than we need and the lifestyle suited us just fine – until the babies came.

Having children is an apartment these days makes you public enemy number one. Children are to be seen and not heard, or so our culture promotes.

We’ve had upstairs neighbors who play NASCAR races on repeat in surround sound, neighbors who push their cats in strollers onto our patio, neighbors who walk in circles around the stop-light at 3am and neighbors with obsessively loud extra-curricular activities, shall we shay.

Our first two babies were “lulled” to sleep by unintelligible heavy metal music that my husband and I swore was a playlist created by the devil himself.

It wasn’t until an upstairs neighbor lost his mind and went on a stomping, screaming, swearing rampage and threatened the life of our colicky baby that enough was enough.

“Neighbor” became a swear word in our home.

The apartment living with babies experience made me want to pack up my family, make a pit stop at a mega bulk foods store and disappear into the country. We could live in a cave where we could parent as we wish without neighborly interference. I’d never have to speak to a “friendly” neighbor again. Too bad that if this family had to “live off the land” such as this lifestyle calls for, we’d parish. I have a black thumb, after all.

This spring we had our third daughter in as many years. At the time we were living in a two bedroom, 800 square foot condo type apartment. We brought our buddle of joy home, took one look around and decided it was time for this family to upgrade.

Not being ready or having the time to purchase a home made us leery of what we could find to accommodate our always growing family (in number and decibel level).

We landed in a beautiful, two story duplex. The home is on the end of a quiet cul-de-sac and the proximity to the highway is perfect for my husband’s commute. With only 1 shared wall and a garage between us, we thought we’d be safe from neighbor issues. We packed the moving truck and prayed for good neighbors.

The Lord provided, tenfold. We now call a beautiful Greek Orthodox family neighbor.

They are gracious to our girls, who often wander into their yard and may or may not swipe things off their patio.

Last week I caught the mother outside to share with her that one of our daughters had come down with the chicken pox. With three boys in their home I thought they should know.

A few days later I found her teenage boy mowing our neglected lawn. Sadly, I was confused by the kind, neighborly gesture.

I went over to speak with his mother, who was on her patio.

“What’s he doing,” I asked.

Teenage boy help,” she said in broken English.

“Well thank you so much,” I responded. “I’ll have my husband stop over and pay him when he gets home from work.”

No,” she said. “To help good for a teenage boy.”

I was awe-struck. What an amazing mother, to instill service and generosity into her sons and teach them to share of themselves because it is good, not because they expect something in return.

The next afternoon found me in the kitchen with my girls. With the baby in the Bumbo and the toddlers’ dirty feet crossed-legged on my counter we baked cookies for our new neighbors and talked about the importance of gratitude.

We walked over to our neighbor’s shoeless and as is, with mama in sweat pants wearing a baby and a 2-year-old dressed solely in a diaper.

A 3-year-old little girl with curls in her face handed the young boy and his mother a batch of cookies that may have been made with licked fingers.

You didn’t have to do that,” they said.

“Yes we did,” I said. “Recognizing generosity and being appreciative is good for little girls.”

She smiled, thanked me and said we were welcome in her home any time.

This beautiful new neighbor was a witness of mothering with faith. Although she speaks two languages, her witness came without words. Instead, I identified their family as faithful by the crucifixes hidden under their collars and the way they define “neighbor” in their family’s actions.

A neighbor is not simply someone living in close proximity. It’s someone who walks not only next to us, but with us. And hopefully, we’ll help each other on our journeys to the same final destination.

Share with Me: Are you blessed with neighbors? How are you a neighbor in this world?


Roxane B. Salonen said...

Holly, this is a beautiful story. I am SO HAPPY for you. We have had some neighborly nightmares, but right now, we live in a really wonderful neighborhood. I cannot complain one bit! We even have an annual neighborhood potluck and it is always a very fun event. We live in a cul-de-sac and it is a very cozy setup; just our little circle, and we really haven't had any problems so far. Though I did warm our first neighbors that we might be a little loud, and they moved the following year after having lived for like 30 years in their home. I'm not sure what that says about us. But...I think there were other reasons. :) We are blessed and I'm so glad you reminded me of that and shared your beautiful story. :)

Jaime Adler said...

That was beautiful Holly!

Kelley said...

I LOVE to see who God brings into our lives and the purpose I have for them and vice versa! I can't wait to hear more stories about your neighbor...

Debi said...

Awwwww, you deserve to have good neighbors after what you've been through!!
We are also blessed with WONDERFUL neighbors. God is so good!!

Maggie said...

Oh my goodness... you are a saint. I wouldn't have been able to survive in an apartment that long. We live with my in-laws right now and it's so tense around here that I am actually willing to get to an apartment to get the heck outta here! (We don't really share the same values as they do.. ESPECIALLY NFP... oy...) But I just know that if we do move I will be super duper annoyed. When we were newly weds we lived in an apartment and it was hell. I'm so glad things worked out for you! Hopefully God will grace us like that, too!

Kara said...

Wonderful! What a blessing that must be! You don't even want to know who my current neighbors are. It's pretty creepy. :)

Kathleen Basi said...

What a wonderful story. I remember in our old house, thinking we were too busy to properly greet the people we knew had moved in across the back fence...and then one day they, the newbies, showed up on our door with a plate of cookies. It was a lesson that you don't wait for someone else to make the first move, you take the initiative. We developed a really beautiful relationship with that family, and miss them now that both our families have moved on. But the lesson remained when we came to our new, cookie-cutter subdivision, and helped us to get to know almost all our neighbors in a short period of time. By and large, they're terrific.

Second Chances said...

Praise God for your new place!!! I'm so happy for your family.

We are blessed with wonderful neighbors as well. Not necessarily with the same values, but kind, helpful, generous people. Praise the Lord for that!

Sarah said...

Another beautiful post! This family next door sounds amazing. True community.

Regarding apartment living... I am not a mom yet but having watched my sisters do it, it is HARD with babies. And we currently live in an apartment, and feel more isolated than ever. I miss small town living where you could walk to the store and to church and to your friends. So glad you've found such a wonderful community situation!

CM said...

Glad you found a new place and new neighbors that is working well for you!

Renee said...

I came home from school the other day to find that my neighbor had plowed my driveway for my husband and I!