No Fences Make Good Neighbors

by Kimberly Giarratano
Originally Published: 

“Um,” I say. “Sure.”

He runs into the yard and through the patch of woods that separates the houses.

“Don’t make a nuisance of yourself,” I call after him, as if he even knows what that means. His younger brother trails closely behind.

I text Abby. “The kids are coming over. If they’re too much, send them home.” She sends me back two words: “No worries.” And yet, I worry.

Because I love my neighbors. I really do. I’m not a religious woman, but it’s like some unseen god has intervened and given us this gift—the gift of good neighbors.

And I’m so scared my family is going to do something to screw it up.

You see, seven years ago, before we had kids, my husband and I built a home in a woodsy area of Pennsylvania. When you move someplace rural, you get the added benefit of space. Now, don’t get me wrong—we have neighbors, but with each house sitting on an acre lot, your neighbors aren’t exactly close by.

At the time our house was being constructed, a lovely older couple built a modular home on the lot next to us. They were friendly and warm and generally kept to themselves. We also had a nice family across the street, although their kids were a few years older than mine, who were just babies at the time. But then last December rolled around, and boom! Both families moved away the same week.

Don’t worry, people said. Maybe a family with young kids will move in.

Yeah, what are the chances of that happening? I wondered.

“We’re all alone,” I said to my husband, Bob. “I don’t like it.”

After a demoralizing winter in which the snow pack didn’t melt until April, I spotted a moving truck next door. I ran around the house giddy. A mover deposited plastic toys in the backyard. Border collies fretted about the lawn.

“They have kids!” I shouted. “And dogs!” I grew anxious. What if they let their dogs bark at all hours of the night? What if they play their music too loud? Or let their grass grow as tall as my 3-year-old? What if they’re awful? Maybe it was better to be isolated. Maybe neighbors were overrated.

I walked over to the property line and peeked through the cluster of trees. I gave a half-wave and yelled, “Welcome!” I introduced myself to Ken and Abby. They were from Indiana.

© Courtesy of Kimberly Giarratano

Yes! Midwesterners! They’re the nicest people in the country.

I immediately invited them to my daughter’s first birthday party. “It’ll be in our backyard. We’re making Mexican food, and we’ll have a piñata.”

“Stop trying to sell them on it,” Bob said. “They’ll come over.”

“They could’ve moved anywhere, and they moved next door to us,” I told him. “Their kids are the same age as the boys. We’re so lucky.”

I feel blessed. Not only do our kids love to play with each other, but Abby and Ken are awesome. Abby is a former teacher, like me, and we’re the same age. Ken loves to grill. He’s a Colts fan. He’s handy like my husband. They talk football and craft beers. We’re having Memorial Day barbecues together and impromptu Friday night cookouts. Ken and Bob cleared a path through the brush so our kids could run to each other’s homes without having to traverse the street. My kids jump with excitement when they see the neighbor kids outside. I don’t have to tear the iPad from their grubby hands and beg them to go play. They’re rushing to get their shoes on before breakfast is even on the table.

I follow them next door so I can chat with Abby. There’s no shortage of conversation. Hours pass by. Bob comes home after work and speaks with Ken about getting our gravel driveways paved. They share a beer. On a Tuesday! No waiting for the weekend to see friends. Because they live right next door.

And yet, I’m worried because it’s not 1985. I fret about things my mother never considered. Are my kids being annoying? Is my youngest having a tantrum? Should I call the boys home? Should I go over there? I don’t want Abby to think she has to entertain me. I tell her to send all the kids to my yard, to give her a break from supervising, but they’re having so much fun, no one budges, and so I sit in my kitchen and I write this essay. I kinda feel guilty.

The boys come back soon for their swimsuits. They want to romp through the neighbor’s sprinkler. I hope they’re not being an imposition.

Did my mother ever wonder if I was overstaying my welcome? Most times, my mom didn’t know whose yard I was playing in until she stuck her head out the door and bellowed my name. She used to kick me out of the house with explicit instructions not to return for an hour. I’d usually find a friend on their swing set or riding their bike. What began as a boring day at home became an afternoon of Barbies and tag with a neighbor. That was a summer day when I was a kid. No plan. No timetable. Just meandering the cul-de-sac until I bumped into a buddy and came home with a dirty face and sweaty brow.

But in 2015, we live in a more managed world. Playdates are scheduled. Kids rarely go outside without supervision. And in a rural county, I have to drive 20 minutes for my son to visit a friend. I’m always around my kids, in a way my mother never was.

I know Abby worries similarly. She just sent me an apology text because the boys arrived home covered in dirt.

“Are you kidding?” I wrote back. “My boys are filthy from running in a sprinkler on a muggy summer day.”

It can’t get any better.

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