My childhood neighbors meant easy-access friends, open doors, warm porches, sheet forts straddling short chain-link fences, and grabbing rights to the kind of soda and snacks never allowed in my own home. There is one neighbor who I cannot remember without picturing the bushes between our houses.
Those bushes were a hiding place for us, our treasures, a time capsule, a fortress, and a refuge from the world of his abusive parents, although I didn’t realize that for many years, and not until long after he’d moved away. I can still smell those bushes and feel the light pressure of rubbing a Juniper Berry between my thumb and finger, leaving them both blue. Those bushes were a place of exploration, whispered secrets, elaborate plans of how we’d run away to California, and my first real love and six-year-old kiss.
Back then, neighbors meant tribe. A place to go when my own backyard was too boring, too used, and too lonely. Neighbor kids were the ones who taught me what the F-word was, that you get pregnant when a boy touches your belly button with his penis, and that if you eat Pop Rocks and drink a soda, your stomach will explode until you die.
In the 70’s and 80’s, we met, unsupervised, at the school parking lot to greet the dares and the cheers of riding down the scary-steep hill hands-free on our bicycles, and of climbing up to the school roof using nothing but a well-placed dumpster and a boost-up. Neighbors meant community. Inclusion.
They were the people that always showed up for a game of spotlight before dusk, even when they didn’t acknowledge you at school the next day because you were too young and maybe too uncool to be cool.
I miss those neighbors, although I don’t remember all of their names. Today, my neighbors, or maybe it’s my neighborhood, are different from those open door, grab a snack, mi casa su casa memories of my youth.
When I was pregnant with my son Tucker, and new to this neighborhood, I was convinced that I’d have the home in which all the kids gathered, that my door would remain unlocked and open, that snacks would be taken unasked for, and that Tucker would usually be here, because this would be the place that his friends wanted to be. Once he was born, I quit my job, strapped him in his snazzy Baby Bjorn, and trolled. While there were anticipated “OOOH! How old is he? Precious!” comments, kisses on his fine little bald baby head, there were no open doors, or invitations for play.
I didn’t expect that my neighborhood would feel so lonely.
That motherhood would feel so lonely.
With my family and friends far away, and my few local friends either careering and not mothering, or newly mothering but not up the street, my wandering around looking for neighbors and community while wearing Tucker needed expansion. I joined Mommy and Me groups. I joined Soccer Tots. I said hello and I was mostly normal, I think. Still, no neighbors. No open doors. Something was wrong with the picture that I’d had in my head.
I did end up meeting a friend when Tucker was about six months old, at a Mommy and Me event. After wandering my sidewalks for six months, eagerly sniffing for anybody who might relate and welcome me, I was beyond grateful to have found S and her daughter, who was only three months younger than Tucker was. We spent many afternoons and evenings and sweaty walks together. We laughed at our kids’ new abilities, them kissing one another, and their naked butts on a beach towel taken on a girl/kid weekend trip.
At some point, the girl started to do things that my boy wasn’t doing. At first, I wasn’t concerned. The girl started to do more and more, while I was struggling with evaluations and language delays and worry and fear and knowing that life will never be the same while desperately wanting life to just be the same, even if it was lonely.
I was struggling with “Please, just let Tucker be normal, or at least be okay, or at least let him have a friend and not be bullied, and please let him know what love is, and please, if I die, let somebody love him…” I was struggling with the please. The desperation. That lasted for a good while.
We no longer see that friend much; our last playdate lasted about 11 minutes, ending with her daughter crying “I just want to go home” and Tucker having a meltdown because she took his toy.
Still, we lived our normal.
One day, a woman named Leslie came into our home, our hearts, and into Tucker’s brain and abilities. She is a Preschool Autism Classroom teacher here, uses ABA therapy, and I swear- is the reason that Tucker talks. Through her, and that classroom, I found a new neighborhood, even though I cannot walk to most of them. I found a mom tribe of people who understand and accept my little boy. I found friends. I found open doors, even though they mean something very different from what I’d dreamed of, years ago, trolling the neighborhood looking for camaraderie.
Life, and this neighborhood haven’t been normal since. Ever, really.
Except that it has been exactly and perfectly normal.
Families with special needs kids feel normal, by the way. We don’t realize that anything is anything less than thislife, our house, and well, here. One month ago today, I sent my little baby boy – who is no longer a baby boy – to kindergarten. I grieved and I cried and I know now that this passing of the years while the days feel so long is normal for all of us. Special needs or not.
Also, this week, Tucker played with his cousins. He played with Stephanie’s girls. He played. And it was totally normal enough.
And I’ve gotten to know my neighbors a little bit more. I’m now a part of the Bus Stop Mom Crew. Except, I’m not. I want to be, and I don’t want to be. There are the bitches, and the crazies, and the inbetweens. There’s the one nice one, who remembered Tucker’s name…
I’d be lying if I said that I still don’t approach this ‘hood and the bus stop daily, hoping for what I used to think this neighborhood would be like. I’d be lying if I said that it is not a stupid high-school click thing, that the cool moms barely acknowledge me or my son, and I’d also be lying if I said that I was no longer hoping that they will, or that it matters much whether they do.
Because somewhere, in looking for my neighborhood, I found my neighbors.
This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post. This week’s hosts are:
Finding Ninee (moi)
and Allison Carter of Go Dansker Mom (guest host as in please show her some extra love)