An Open Letter (and, um, kind of a love letter) To My Neighbors

My neighbor/friend just suggested, in the face of my impending move, that we get together on Friday, and it made me tear up. Lately I get teary-eyed (or, well, downright cry) when I tell my neighbors I’m moving, because this neighborhood has been the best one could hope for, so many kids the same age as mine and, even better, so many wonderful adults. People with similar senses of humor, little judgment, plenty of kindness, and a shared sense that we’re all in this together.

Our little boys toddled around the neighborhood together. They rode their trikes and scooters in a little group around the block, gathering more children every few houses or so until we had a downright posse. We’ve watched each other swell bigger and bigger and then emerge from their homes with tiny new babies; heard those babies cry in the summers, our windows all open; dropped off meals or banana bread or cookies. Commiserated over fevers and advised on rashes and shared all the hand-me-downs: the clothes circle the block, some of them.

There are a few girls: the tween that the toddler boys got all shy around. The nature-lover, one year older, who taught the others the names of dinosaurs, species of reptiles, and turned them on to Wild Kratts. She happened to be over for a playdate one magical day when hundreds — thousands? — of the tiniest spiderlings were making their way from below our basement storm door, where they’d hatched, up the finest strands to the sill of the upper window or higher before launching off into their spidery futures on tiny silky balloons.

It’s winter now, and we’re no longer spending the long hours outside in each other’s yards. And with our children’s varying school schedules and preschools and activities and early darkness and such, we’re not seeing each other much at all right now. Also, Max is getting more opinionated about who he spends time with, so it’s harder for me to run into a neighbor family and invite them over after school if Max is very opposed to it.

Sometimes, of course, he just wants some downtime. Kindergarten makes for a long day with a lot of learning, and it is tiring.

The farm where I grew up was rich with sugar maples, Concord grapes, fields, woods, wild raspberries, a big garden, and plenty of room to run around.By the time I was in graduate school, the farm had been sold, but the place was seared into my memory, and its landscapes appeared in everything I wrote.

While this apartment is (just about literally) falling down around us, the yard is large and backed by huge old sugar maples. Concord grapes grow in the back corner, behind the garden my father helped us put in the summer Max was born. Wild raspberry canes sprang up on their own thanks to birds, with the front patch yielding enough for several nice breakfasts and even more jars of jam (until this year, when the landlord cut them to the ground). It’s like the abbreviated city version of my childhood home.

I suspect one reason I’m feeling so sad about leaving this place is its familiarity in a subdued suburban city I never in my life expected to end up in, let alone become attached to. I’ve snubbed its public schools, its hockey culture, the poorly-patched pavement, the lack of change. Its total inability to even try to compete with the progressive, hip town next door.

But yet I’ve become rather attached to this town.

My friends, and their friends, have started a summer farmer’s market. A winter farmer’s market. A monthly arts festival. Cultural events. The bookstore is finally back. There is a decent restaurant or two. Ever-ever-ever so slowly, this town is improving. I haven’t gotten involved; I always knew I wouldn’t be staying.

And the playground, the local playground, where I spent hours and hours and days and months and years, endlessly, a place to watch the children play and grow and learn but, more so, to gather with the community. Yes, we may be bowling alone these days, to reference Robert Putnam, but we’re gathering in other places. I would, at times, practically drag the kids to the park, because I was the one to needed to see and talk to other people, to catch up with my community.

My older son isn’t talking about the move much yet, though I know he doesn’t want to leave here. Last year we carved out a pretty cool hideout under the grape vines, cutting back branches on the bush below it and cutting down some of the back raspberry patch to create entranceways. We covered the sides with branches and leaves; at one point, the children inside were truly hidden away.

Our new yard will be smaller, though the kids can be outside unattended in it. The nearby fields and parks are huge and very close, but of course the boys can’t be left alone there. And it won’t be theirs, per se.

I don’t want to leave this yard. I am very attached to our yard. We’re out there almost daily. Even in winter, Max skis around in the yard, and we pull Ben on a sled. We’ve build igloos and snow forts.

Leaving is hard, and we’ve barely started packing. I’ve been practicing my new zip code; I looked it up today.

I don’t want to leave, I don’t want to move, I don’t want to go. Yet I can’t wait to be in a new place. I’ll try not to overshare with the new neighbors as we all emerge in the spring. I want to bring our maples and grapes and raspberry canes with us, because — all my life — those are the things that bring me home.

And our neighbors, oh god, I will miss you. So much. I’ll be two miles and a lifetime away. Playdates aren’t the same when you can’t just yell from the window down to the street, “Hey! What are you doing? Want to come over?” I’ve said this before: I wish you’d all come with me.

Please, just consider it, because saying goodbye to all of you is way too hard.

 

 

 

 

 

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