“If love shows itself in the eyes, then my neighbors love me: I’m on their watch list.”
I have lived in the same house for almost 11 years. This may sound like an unimpressive statistic but when I tell you that the longest I lived in any one house in the 31 years prior to that was four years, you might understand a little more. I spent a lifetime moving from town to town, house to house and creating a new place in the world for myself with each new locale.
But now, I've lived in the exact same house in the exact same town for over a decade. I believe this makes me a "local."
I've discovered that there are really neat things about living somewhere as a permanent fixture. My youngest son was born in this house (well, not IN this house, but I'll cover THAT later). It's morphed from contractor-white walls to the varied colors of my imagination. That time nine years ago when the toilet overflowed upstairs and water leaked into the kitchen ceiling is now showing on the kitchen ceiling itself with the popcorn paint peeling overhead like a sly, watermarked smile. I walk the same streets each day. I meet people I know regularly when I'm out running errands.
I still, however, do not know my neighbors.
One would think after 11 years in the same house with the immediate homes around me populated by the same people who were there when I moved in that I would at least know NAMES of my neighbors. I do know the New Flanders next door (I'll cover THAT nickname in a minute; be patient!), and I know the guy immediately across the street. Other than that, I have ZERO clue about the identity of my neighbors other than the little tidbits I've picked up in observation over the years. I am not blaming my neighbors; I just realize that a neighborhood is a bit like high school. You're thrust into the same orbit with these people by virtue only of your residence and you avoid most of them at will because you almost certainly have nothing in common with them. Couple that with the fact that we live in the city limits in one of those neighborhoods where the developer was trying to squeeze every last dollar out of lot sizes so all of our houses are approximately 15 feet apart. But we all smile and nod and think to ourselves "What in the HECK is that woman's NAME?"
Let's start with the New Flanders. Years ago, when my Ex-Husband still lived here with me, we had the NICEST neighbors in the WORLD. They introduced themselves when we moved in (unlike every other neighbor I have) and they were truly the kind of people (still are) that make me ashamed of myself and my general ill-will toward most people. They were always smiling and waving and saying hello. Their three boys were all very well-mannered. We NEVER heard them. Never. Three boys. Quiet? WTF? Anyway, remember the guy Ned Flanders from the television show The Simpsons? "Hiddely ho, neighbor!" Super friendly guy? The Ex-Husband and I started calling our neighbors the Flanders. The husband even kinda LOOKED like Ned. We were both so afraid we were going to slip up and say "Hi Flanders!" when he spoke to us.
Well, eventually, the Flanders sold their house to a young couple who were EXACTLY LIKE THEM. So nice. So incredibly friendly. I actually give them herbs from my garden sometimes because they are just so DARNED NICE. They've had a couple of kids now and we exchange pleasantries whenever our paths cross.
So yesterday, our neighborhood had a Community Yard Sale. On-Again came over in the morning and we ended up strolling through the neighborhood looking at the various wares for sale. He was on the lookout for a bicycle for me so we can have some Great Camping Adventures this summer with the boys. We passed by the New Flanders and waved hello. Later that morning, we were eating breakfast and I stopped and asked On-Again, "Was Mrs. New Flanders holding a BABY this morning?"
"Well, yeah," he responded. "But isn't that the kid she already has?"
"No. No, not at all. The Newest Flanders is a toddler." This got my mind whirring. How on earth could the neighbor who LITERALLY lives 15 FEET away from me have been pregnant for nine months and have given birth and I NEVER KNEW? I felt the weight of my obliviousness.
So, yesterday I was out mowing my lawn and all the New Flanders were out in their own yard doing what New Flanders do. (Did I mention that the Old Flanders received Yard of the Month TWICE while they lived next to us? We decided they received the honor only due to comparison with OUR yard. MY yard makes ANYONE'S yard look GREAT.) I saw Mrs. New Flanders next to the fence (did I mention how pretty and thin she is?) and stopped the mower to talk.
I said hello and then jumped right into my agenda.
"So, did I see you with a BABY earlier?"
"Oh, yes," she smiled broadly, showing her perfectly even, white teeth. "She was born the day after Valentine's day."
"Did I even know you were PREGNANT?"
Her smile faltered a tiny bit but then she regained her composure. She knows how I am. "Well, I didn't really gain very much weight. Only 20 pounds. I had her right in the living room, by choice of course. So much less expensive and a lot healthier for the baby."
I think my mouth was actually gaping open at this point.
"SO," I said. "I guess that means you didn't use any drugs."
"Oh NO," she said, still smiling broadly. "I didn't use any with the other two either."
Now, I've seen the Having the Baby show on Lifetime Television for Women (it's not called that but I watched it constantly while I was pregnant with both my boys). They always feature women who are very into the natural birthing process. They often involve their other children so they can witness the Miracle of Birth.
I started in again because I just don't know when to keep my mouth shut. "So, I'm guessing Flanders One and Two were able to participate in the birth?"
She assured me that Flanders One was able to be there at the moment of birth and had been very excited. My smile felt all plasticky and frozen. I wanted to support her choices because they ARE very natural and beautiful choices but at the same time I wanted to stamp her forehead with STEPFORD on it because I can't say I have a single friend who makes the choice to have a baby in her living room. "Give me DRUGS," we all admit over glasses of wine. "Thank GOODNESS we no longer have to squat in dark rooms or in fields to squirt these suckers out!" But here I was, faced with a woman who chose to have her baby in the comfort of her own home surrounded by people she loved....without the benefit of pain-blockers to keep her from spewing obscenities.
I KNOW, for a fact, that Mrs. New Flanders is not only a better person than I, but she is also far more hardcore. She grinds wheat into flour (I'm not kidding...she really does), she uses cloth diapers and she prepares every meal for her family with all-natural ingredients with zero preservatives. She already told me she plans to homeschool Flanders One in the fall. She is a Real Woman. And I am ashamed of myself whenever I'm near her.
She's kind. She's pretty. She's not self-involved but very Mother Earth giving.
It's best that I just don't get to know my neighbors at all.