Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

October 7, 2008

Oh, I want to be all metaphor-heavy and talk about all the work I’ve done on boundary issues in the last few years and how I think this makes me more ready to parent than I ever would have been otherwise, but actually I really want to say that since Sunday our back yard has looked great. Our next-door neighbor and his brother (who lived in the next-door house before I moved in) spent the weekend building us a fence. We’re in a corner lot and we’d had a lovely 8-foot (I’m guessing here based on how much taller than me it is) fence toward the back side and the street side. Then between our house and the brothers’ house we just had chainlink and some stringy evergreens, and since the drought last summer killed two of the evergreens it was a pretty pitiful barrier. The Neighbor Brothers ripped out the chainlink and the trees, cut boards to match what we had plus took the extra slats that had been stored in the basement, dug holes and poured concrete to make sure the uprights are sturdy, and then on Sunday finished putting up the whole fence. While they stood around gossiping and drinking beer afterwards, I ripped up a bunch of ivy and tidied the area where the trees had been. Lee finally got in the destructive spirit and ripped out two dying azaleas, which is not what I would have done but did end up leaving us a huge swath of empty space.

So now we’ve got a big, cleared yard. Well, not big by suburban standards, but big compared to what it was. We’ll probably fill the middle part with grasses that won’t need cutting as a place to play for our dog and future kid(s). Lee’s keen on the idea of a hammock, so we’re looking at how that will work. When she moved in, this was a beautifully landscaped yard, but by the time I came into the picture the traumatized dog had done a lot of damage and Lee’s benign neglect had snowballed into some serious ugliness. I planted a lot last year, but then we had terrible summer weather that kept just about anything from taking. We also ripped out the phlox that had taken up the center of the yard, so that’s been sort of a dust bowl. A retired friend who lives down the street is going to help us decide what should go where and get some planting done soon. But for now we just keep looking out and being excited about how nice the yard is and how much space we have with the little dead trees gone.

Anyway, the point of the story is that we spent all day Sunday hanging out with the Neighbor Brothers and eventually one’s girlfriend, grilling out and watching football and listening to records (!!) and chatting. Lee was making a big deal about how she wants the brother who lives next door to be a good role model for any sons we have and he got all excited about how much he loves buying kids books. (Seriously, I love this neighbor and really need to spend more time with him; we have a lot in common.) She was teasing the farther-up-the-street brother that she wouldn’t let any son of hers hang out with him and he was teasing back about how every kid needs to learn to make cabinets and so ours should start at his house as soon as we have placement. It just felt so nice to be hanging out with people who aren’t friends we’ve chosen but just that we ran into and who care about us and want us to do well and are excited about helping us be good parents. And they built a wonderful fence!

Even before the fence day, I was all excited because at our foster-adoptive picnic we met a single gay man (of color, no less!) who did a special needs adoption long ago in a far-off state but now lives right around the corner from us and is taking classes to become a foster parent. We had great conversations about what it’s like to live in our little town, and I just emailed him before writing this. While we liked several of the other students in our class — and also disliked several — I think this is the strongest connection I’ve made with someone else who’s going through the process. I’m sure we’ll get to see him again soon and see what develops.

I feel very fortunate to live where we do, where we can experience all the metropolitan glories of River City but do it safely from our quieter side of the river. I’m amazed but happy that although we’re in a very white, very “traditional” town no one has ever treated us as if we don’t belong. I love that we hear the trains go by and feel the house shake. I love the wild sprays of lavender and lilies in the front yard, how clean and ready for change the back yard is now. I love the cat who curls up with us at night and the cat who sleeps alone. I love our silly dog and how children always come up to us and want to pet her. I love coming home to Lee at night. I love that I wake up every morning happy about my life. I know that all these things could change, but I also think I have enough love to welcome more into my life and good neighbors to back me up when I do.


  1. Sounds like a nice neighborhood!

  2. It is! It’s been a very pleasant surprise. According to a friend who works there, the relatively small public schools are also particularly good at making sure each student’s needs are met, which would also be a good thing.

    We’d been hoping to move in a year or two to a more diverse, bigger town that borders ours, but since this isn’t a good time to sell a house we’ve been relieved how easy it seems it will be for us to stay put.

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