Our next door neighbours are moving. The other half of our semi-detached house will soon have strangers in it. I am, perhaps, more upset by this than the situation really calls for. Our neighbours are only moving up the street. They will be close by, but they won’t be next door and they will no longer back onto our little alley.
A few years ago, my neighbour E. handed two swings over the fence and said we should put them up in our maple tree since they had nowhere to hang them.
Later we cut a little hole in the chain-link fence between the yards so that her then-two and five-year old boys could come over and swing. Soon, the hole grew into a child-sized doorway, complete with a little gate. Every morning I’d come down and put the kettle on and glance out to see two blond boys lounging on the hammock-swing munching on toast or pulling with all their little might to swing and kick ever-higher branches. If the neighbours’ garage door was open, kids would trickle in from the alley and there would be a before-school gathering of five, six and seven-year olds in our backyard. They provided lovely early morning entertainment for me, up early with a baby or chasing a purse-toting toddler.
The gate broke apart but the hole in the fence remains. It is still a well-used portal between the backyards and also serves as a monkey bar. I’ve gotten so used to this arrangement that I don’t think of our backyard as small. Practically-speaking, it’s twice as wide.
There are other advantages. E. could hear when I was starting to lose it with my kids. Sometimes it’s handy to know you have witnesses. I never bothered to buy garden clippers because there are some readily available next door. I shovel their steps in the winter. They mow our front lawn in the summer. It worked. When I have to go pick up Akka from school and Malli doesn’t want to come, I just poke my head in next door to see if someone is there to keep an eye on him for ten minutes. Many times E. has called to check that we’re home before leaving her boys home ‘alone’ for a little while. We leave the back doors open, I check on them once or twice, they have our phone number, and they know where to find us if they need us.
Having another family next door, with a mom who is around during the day, has been tremendously valuable. I never knew how much I’d need them. These back-room domestic support systems keep mothers sane. They stand in for the villages that it takes to raise a child. My children’s grandparents live in Colombo, Ottawa and Vancouver. Their aunts and uncles and cousins live in London, Gatineau and Jakarta. It’s friends and neighbours who help on a daily basis – who send over extra dinner and let your sick kid sleep on their couch. They’ll pick up your mail and water your plants (for us) or feed the cat, gerbils and snake (for them) when you’re out of town. They’ll notice when your kid is standing out on the sidewalk or a bike is left under a car’s back tire.
E. ruined a perfectly good party by telling me they were moving. The two of us spent the rest of the evening weeping on the front porch. I started in Denial, moved quickly through Anger (jerks) to Bargaining (you can renovate! don’t move! build a third floor! re-build the sunroom!) to Depression (sadness, really, with thoughts of sabotage such as releasing mice just prior to the open house), and I’m working on Acceptance. I’ve given up the role of ‘jilted neighbour’ and am trying to embrace ‘supportive friend’. I’m helping them fluff the house. Staging it for re-sale. I lent them some wicker baskets (“baskets can be your best asset” says the fluffing manual) and helped pick out accent cushions (“bright and cheerful pieces throughout” says the fluffing manual). K. put a characteristic Marxist spin on the process by observing that we are working to convert use value into exchange value.
I can’t say that I’ll miss these four people because they’re really only moving a block away. But I will miss having these four people living exactly where they are now. I’m sure the new neighbours will be friendly but what are the chances that they’ll be a family, with kids close in age to mine, with a parent home during the day, with no sense of privacy and a good collection of garden tools?