“Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat.” How I already loathe you, plastic ghost! It didn’t take a maternal genius to figure out how fast Nicky would learn that tired little rhyme.
“Mommy, who gave us this?”
Nicky continued to rip through cellophane on the Halloween-themed gift basket left at our door. The loot included: Halloween pencils, a little ceramic pumpkin, various pieces of décor, candy, and my new plastic nemesis.
“You’ve been BOO-ed!”
Buried at the bottom, I found the written explanation of the Halloween BOO project. A neighbor secretly leaves a small gift basket, BOO instructions and a BOO sign at a neighbor’s doorstep. (In the era of video doorbells, there is no anonymity-we were thanked by the both families that we subsequently BOO-ed). Anyway, the lucky BOO-ee is asked to post the sign near the door, alerting others not to duplicate that house. By now in late October, the whole neighborhood has been BOO-ed.
As Nicky chattered a mile a minute about how fun our BOO basket was, I was lost in thought. A series of images from our neighborhood clicked through my mind. The teddy bears that popped up in windows with signs of encouragement when COVID first hit. The houses that left Easter eggs out on lawns for the neighborhood children. The 12 year-old who began walking her vulnerable neighbor’s dog three times a day. The tulips that were left in a vase for passing moms on Mother’s Day.
We moved into the neighborhood six years ago as newlyweds. Until 2020, I only knew the names of my next-door neighbors. As much as I claim to be all about community, something about introducing myself to people as they are out walking their dogs prompts extreme social anxiety. My husband is British; and Brits are BIG on introduction. There is an old joke about two Brits stranded on a deserted island. Both died never having spoken because no one was else was there to introduce them. Needless to say, we always thought that we were screwed in the making-friends-with-the-neighbors department.
When quarantines began, Richard and I were desperate to find new and creative ways to exhaust the boys. So began our regular outings down to the small playground at the end of the street. We had always taken the boys to the playground but at inconsistent times. Suddenly, we found that the new regularity of our visits helped us see the same families again and again. We also added an evening walk into our routine, as did many other families. Conversations started happening organically, especially as more people came out into their front yard on those lovely spring evenings. One of our neighbors, Liz, took up acrylic painting and transformed her garage into an art studio. She began welcoming passersby into her open garage to see her new pieces. Richard ended up buying three small abstract beach images I had admired from her for my Mother’s Day gift. They hang in our bathroom now and I smile every time I notice them.
Nicky has made more even more friends than we have. He now regularly has “playdates” at the playground with several different kids. There are definite challenges, namely trying to keep 3-4 year-olds from not spitting and/or coughing on each other and then explaining yet again why Nicky is not allowed to go into his friends’ houses. The other pitfall in Nicky’s newfound friendships is that Daniel has more “big boy” mentors who demonstrate the apparent fun of jumping off the highest slide. Daniel get ideas, yo…so many bad ideas. These challenges are insignificant when I consider how incredible it is that the boys are meeting so many other children on the street. They all have the potential to grow up together.
COVID has been such an isolating and devasting event for our global community; I don’t want to diminish that reality in any way. The irony is not lost on me; that it took such a catastrophic season to open my eyes to my own neighborhood. In conversations with other families, especially those with young children, our experience is not unique. Many others have now been home long enough to expand their definition of home, to the newfound friends and relationships all around them.