Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Before You Can Love Thy Neighbor, You Have to Know Thy Neighbor

We’ve lived in our house for five years, and we have these neighbors that I just can’t seem to get in with. Let’s call them Penny and Cliff, their daughters Maggie and Lola. Penny and Cliff are Thirtysomethings like David and I are, and their kids are roughly the ages of Johnny and Grace. So, for the last five years, whenever I see Penny or Cliff out with Maggie and Lola, at our neighborhood park, out walking, out playing in the yard, when I stop at Maggie’s lemonade stand, Trick-or-Treating on Halloween etc., I always think (and usually say out loud), “We should get our families together sometime.” The first time I suggested this to Cliff (five years ago) while swinging our girls at the park, his initial reaction surprised me a bit. “Yeeeaaaah,” he said, in that slow Office-Space-Manager drawl, “I just told my next door neighbor that moved in recently that it’s, you know, cool to speak to each other, like when we’re taking out the trash and stuff, but, I mean, I don’t want to be best friends with the guy. You know? When I get home from work, I want to do my own thing and don’t really want my neighbors thinking we’re going to hang out all the time, you know?” No, not really.

And then there’s Penny. Penny is friendly enough, always waves and speaks to me in passing, asks about the kids, comments on how big they’re getting, etc. It just makes sense to me: we enjoy talking to each other, our kids seem interested in each other, so wouldn’t it be natural to take it to the next level over pizza and cokes on a Friday evening while the grown ups talk and the kids run around? Parents of young children are mostly all doing the same thing most nights, so why not do it together? When I’ve suggested getting together with Penny, she just smiles and never once has she said, “Yes, let’s.”

For the last year or so, Penny and Cliff have been really involved with our Neighborhood Association, and Cliff’s now an officer, the President, in fact. Even though we’ve been neighbors for five years, sometimes at various functions, like the annual July 4th parade, he acts as if he doesn’t know us. I always speak and ask about Maggie and Lola. He never asks or comments about my kids. And he acts as if he’s never talked to us before. It has started to bother me.

Cliff and Penny belong to our gym. A few weeks ago, Cliff and I were both swimming laps in the indoor pool. I thought I recognized him but didn’t know for sure (Who really looks like themselves in a speedo and goggles?). Anyway, I wasn’t about to say hi first. We did our laps and then I got out and went to the hot tub to relax for a few minutes. I was the only one in the hot tub until Cliff got in after doing his laps. Now we’re inches apart, in a hot tub, the only ones, and I still refuse to speak to him or even look him in the eye. I admit I can be a bit of a game-player, but I was tired of initiating all of our exchanges up to this rather uncomfortable point. I wanted to see if he’d speak to me. He didn’t. So for ten minutes, the two of us, long-time neighbors, sat in the hot tub, with nary a word.

About two weeks ago, Penny got on the treadmill next to me. I thought, “Well, this is going to be awkward. Am I supposed to talk to her?” We smiled and gave each other the perfunctory acknowledgement nod but I did not take my ear buds out and kept right on running. She wasn’t listening to music, so thirty minutes later, as I was getting off the treadmill, we exchanged a few pleasantries about the summer, what our kids were up to, whether Grace would start Kindergarten in the fall or not, how Maggie had liked Kindergarten. Turns out, Maggie has some of the same “Sensory Integration” issues that Grace has. At the end of the conversation—I couldn’t help myself—I said, “We should get together sometime.” But I turned and walked away before Penny could respond.

Fast forward a few weeks to the open kid swim on Wednesday evenings at the gym. I see this friendly mother with her hands full with three daughters, her youngest only four months old. Our kids notice each other, we talk a bit, things are good. The next time I run into, let’s call her Ebony, we exchange names and start talking about our kids’ ages, what schools they’ll go to, where we live, where we’re from, what our husbands do, what we do. Ebony’s husband, John, is from Banner Elk, not too far from Boone. I tell her I grew up in Boone. Neat! As if it were logically the next thing to say, Ebony says, “We should get together sometime.” I said, “We should!” We leave it at that. On Monday I run into Ebony, John, and their beautiful daughters. I introduce myself to John and we try to think of who we might know in common from the highlands. Ebony says again, “We should get together sometime.” I ask her if she’s taking her kids to the kid swim on Wed. She says she is. I say, “Great, let’s exchange numbers then.”


western otto said...

At the kid swim next wednesday, you should act like you never saw "Ebony" before in your life! Then go see what she writes about you on her blog! Just kidding. Sounds like "Cliff" is your garden variety "control freak", a species with which I have some familiarity. Trust me- you are better off leaving such birds alone on their lofty perches.

Bird Spot said...

Too late, we saw each other Wed. and did the "exchange."