Friday, November 4, 2011

Won't You be my Neighbor?

Greg and I moved to suburbia in September 2009.  Our neighborhood is full of houses similar in size to ours - and most of the families on our street have children that we occasionally see outside.  As far as I can tell our neighbors are somewhat diverse.  We are friendly with one of our next door neighbors - they have two children - and they both work in public safety.  They're good people.  I'm pretty sure our other next door neighbor is illegally renting out rooms of his house.  He uses his back yard as a dump zone for his "business" which means that all kinds of scrap metal, old televisions, and beat up water heaters wind up sitting in his yard for weeks on end.  I'm not too sure that he's an upstanding citizen of our little town, and we only talk to him when he's in his driveway, delivering miscellaneous items to his self proclaimed dump - usually because we need to talk to him about replacing the fence between our properties or we want to trim some of his trees that hang over our driveway.  But other than that, we don't really know our neighbors.  It's pretty sad.

When I was growing up, we lived in a neighborhood where all the kids played together outside pretty much year-round.  When we'd all get in the car on Sunday mornings to head to church, we'd wave to all the neighbors who were outside doing lawn work.  My parents knew and were friends with pretty much all of our direct neighbors, and they even had a couple of neighborhood holiday parties with the group.  When we had parties at our house, we would invite all of our neighbors to come join in on the festivities.  When someone new moved to our street, we'd make cookies and bring them over to welcome the new family to the neighborhood.  It was a great neighborhood to grow up in, although I do remember not thinking so at one point, when one of our neighbors told my parents about me having friends over when my parents weren't home.  My teenage views on the priceless value of good neighbors were obviously skewed beacuse I was appropriately punished for actions I thought I had gotten away with.

When I first moved out of my parent's house and into an apartment building, I remember thinking that not knowing my neighbors was just an acceptable part of apartment living.  Afterall, there weren't really any common living areas for the building, so socializing, if it were to happen, would have to happen inside of someone's personal living space.  Not very conducive to starting a casual neighborly relationship.  So I didn't really know anyone.  It was the same when I moved to another apartment with a roommate, and again, the same when I moved into Greg's apartment after we were married.  When we moved to the burbs I was hoping we'd have a better opportunity to get to know our neighbors.  That hasn't really happened.  Greg is bent on trying to get together with the next door neighbors that we actually like, just to get to know them a bit better, but we haven't been able to settle on a date that works for all of us. 

I wonder if the neighbor issue is a result of living busier lives.  I leave my house to go to work around 7:00 AM and sometimes I'm not home until almost 7:00 PM.  Greg has a similar schedule.  And I'm sure during those times our neighbors are either inside with their families or running off to child-related activities like soccer games, band practice, etc.  We don't see our neighbors out and about very often.  On top of that, I think Greg and I may be the only people on our street who don't have professional landscapers take care of our yard.  So, on weekends when we're out raking leaves or mowing the lawn, we're typically all alone.  Maybe being a distant neighbor and giving others "their space" makes people feel less intrusive in other people's lives.  Greg and I got a letter in the mail a few weeks ago that informed us that a neighbor across the street is going to be renovating his house.  He is required to let us know because he requested a variance to the building code to get the renovation complete.  The letter was sent via registered mail.  The guy lives right across the street!  Why not just walk it over to us?  Why not explain to us in person, what you're doing to your house?  It was surreal to have to drive to the post office to get a letter from someone who's literally a two second walk away from our front door.

Anyway, I've decided that if I really want to get to know my neighbors, it's going to be up to me to get the conversation started.  I've contemplated the idea of throwing a block party...but that idea is very intimidating since I don't know what half of my neighbors even look like.  I need to come up with something small. Maybe just make cookies for everyone and walking around one weekend knocking on doors, saying hello, and introducing myself.  Again, that's intimidating.  Because, if the roles were reversed, I don't think I'd want cookies made by a complete stranger.  It's bizzare how easy it is to not trust people we know nothing about.

This weekend we're having all of the tree debris that fell in last week's storm removed from our property.  I'm hoping some of our neighbors will hear the chipper running at our place and run over to see if they can get in on the action - forcing a conversation between us and them.  We'll see how it goes.  Happy Friday everyone!

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