Like most things in my life, even my exercise regime is complicated. We live in a beautiful subdivision on the lake, but there are a couple of drawbacks as a result of keeping this environment at its pristine best– the most problematic for me is the lack of street lights. I’m not sure the exact reason for this, but I think it may be partly for aesthetic purposes.
I’m an early riser, and would love to workout (run) at 4:30 a.m., but I’m too scared. We may not have lights, but we do have foxes, hawks, deer, wild hogs, snakes, and other wildlife. Since I don’t have courage enough to deal with the possibility of meeting my unfortunate demise at the hands of a critter, I’ve had to improvise, and get creative.
I’ve started doing the Couch to 5K app (again). According to my app coach, Constance, she participated in the program and just completed her first 5K. (Her voice sounds extremely familiar–as in the same voice I heard back in 2014 when I used this app, so if it takes 5 years to be ready for a 5K, I’m not sure that’s the best advertising–not that I’m actually planning on doing a real run in front of people…)
Anyway, since running on the streets in the dark, armed with a flashlight and wearing reflective clothing isn’t my idea of a great time, I participate in this program by running on my driveway. It’s not a big deal during the school year, because I’m up earlier than the morning walkers, but since I sleep a tiny bit later in the summer, I have found that I am now on public display. If you’re not familiar with this app, it’s interval training. You do a warm-up, then alternate between walking/running. To passers-by who have no idea what in the world you’re doing, it might be a tad bit unnerving when what appears to be a crazy person suddenly bursts into a run, and is heading straight for you. As awkward as it ( I ) may seem, maybe I’m not on the same level as Phoebe…
The other morning, after a couple of hours of procrastination, I decided I needed to do the workout. It was between 9-10:00 and the neighborhood was hopping. Lots of car traffic, and walkers, and my across the street neighbor was on his front porch with a front row seat. I began running, and avoided making eye contact when I got close to the street. As I was making a loop around and heading back toward the house, my next door neighbor, Mary, was in her yard waving me down. At first I thought she was just being friendly, but soon realized she wanted to talk. I paused the program, turned my music off, and walked over (my workout log below, which looks like a Rorschach Inkblot test, is a visual of the trail I blazed, and the little dots that are off the beaten path are when I walked over to talk to my neighbor).
Mary asked if I had received the email about one of our neighbors who had suddenly passed away. He lived alone, and his dog had been roaming the streets. I told her that I had, indeed, read the email, and we discussed what might happen to the dog, as many people were volunteering to take care of it. We talked about how sad the situation was, and I thought to myself, what’s really sad is I have no idea who the man is who passed away. After our brief conversation, I went back to the track, I mean my driveway, and resumed the workout.
And I began thinking. Reflecting on our 20 years in the neighborhood, and what a crummy neighbor I am.
When we first moved into our house, Christopher was in the 4th grade, and Charles was in 1st grade. There were no houses on either side of us, or even across the street. Fortunately, there were neighbors around the corner with children the same ages as our boys. In the next couple of years, more families moved in and houses went up all around us. The neighborhood was filled with adults who were around our age as well as lots of children. The boys and their friends cleared bike trails through the woods, built secret forts, and played pickup games of baseball, basketball, and soccer. There were also fun family activities that occurred throughout the year. When Halloween rolled around, there was a hayride and neighborhood Halloween party/Fall Festival. Lots of fun and fellowship, and we actually knew the people around us.
As the years passed, things began to change, and we became immersed in our kids’ activities, and weren’t able to attend all the functions, and with work and life, didn’t make much of an effort to meet new people as they moved in. We also began to wonder if we were the reason that the houses next to us and across from us seemed to change owners frequently. We laughingly referred to ourselves as the “Clampetts” of the neighborhood.
The makeup of our subdivision had changed, with more retirees moving in. I don’t want to sound as if that’s a bad thing, (especially since we are now around that age), but the new mindset and the Home-Owners Association rules did create a different atmosphere. One year, around Halloween, an email went out suggesting that instead of giving candy to trick-or-treaters, we should give pencils and toothbrushes! I. Kid. You. Not. I’m not a huge Halloween advocate, but on October 31st of that year, in my own mini-rebellion, I made sure I handed out the most sugar-filled treats I could find! I resented the idea of being “told,” sort of like a mandate cloaked as a suggestion, what we should give trick-or-treaters. I mean, this, after all, is America. And how many pencils and toothbrushes does one little goblin need?
During this time of transition, when my kids were becoming teenagers or close to it, I was also working on my masters degree at UT Tyler. I was overwhelmed with work, college, supporting the basketball team Brian coached, and all their activities. I had to be super-organized, which is usually a great thing, but when a mother tells you after your child’s celebration, “That was the most organized birthday party I’ve ever attended,” it isn’t exactly a compliment. I had achieved making my home the place where fun came to die. I sort of took that personally, as she also added, “and the kids tell me your house is so clean, you don’t even allow them to wear their shoes inside.” Wow. (And before we go on, my obsession with a tidy house has decreased dramatically since then). I refused to allow my feelings to get hurt as I reminded myself that her young son, the devil incarnate, had done some very un-neighborly things to us–including stealing our mail (and it just so happened it was during the week after 9-11, and the extra tax refund check “W” promised to Americans earlier in the year, was in that stash of mail, which the suspect’s mother found scattered in the woods around her house. She had no idea how it got there (really??) and she sent him over to return it to us. Guilt was plastered all over his fake, and smug angelic face). Also, this same kid sneaked into our garage through the back door that was off our patio, and locked our garage door, so when we returned from church one night, we pressed the opener (and kept pressing when it didn’t open) and stripped the wires. Oh, by the way. He was 5.
Because of our busy lives, we got behind in welcoming people, and became a little introverted when it came to making new neighbor friends. I remember once, I was sitting on the front porch, reading an assignment for my psychology class, and the across-the-street neighbors (who were caddy-corner from us and I had never formally been introduced to), had a disagreement (full-fledged altercation) in their yard–husband and wife screaming/cursing at the top of their lungs and putting on quite a show. I was frozen and didn’t want to move because they would know I was there, (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) and I felt it would be awkward, so I sat and waited them out. Soon after, they divorced and the house was for sale. I began to realize that I unintentionally learned a lot about my neighbors as I watched from my porch or through my kitchen windows. In my defense, the windows cover an entire wall, and are like “faux” French doors. I can’t help seeing stuff. And I have been witness to a lot. One day after commenting on the woman who runs circles around her husband as he walks (and I mean this literally. She actually runs around him the entire time as he walks) I jokingly stated to my family that I had become the “Mrs. Kravitz” of the neighborhood, the nosey neighbor from “Bewitched.” I’m not proud of this at all, but from my position, I could see the comings and goings of the teenagers across the street, and I watched the walkers and the runners as they traveled by. In fact, I am glad that I was inside my house the first time “naked runner” ran by. He wasn’t actually naked, but was close to it, as he only sported tiny shorts and athletic shoes. (And in my defense, my next door neighbor coined that phrase… just before she moved! I miss her! We truly understood each other. When we needed to borrow something, we would send a text and the first statement always began, “I don’t have my bra on,” or “I’m already in my pajamas, so I’m sending so-and-so over to pick up such-and-such.”)
I am proud to say that over the last year, we have become acquainted with all of our neighbors who surround us. The guy across the street is an LSU fan, and the day of that great win for the Aggies against LSU, I spoke to him just before leaving for College Station. We were both being polite about the matchup and I joked that he would probably enjoy it more than we would. And I seriously meant that. But then we won (in 7 overtimes) and I have to say, I avoided him for a few days, simply because I know how badly I take it when we are outscored. I’m sure he, like most people in the world, is probably more mature in that area than I am, but still, I didn’t want to be obnoxious or seem to come across as a bad winner.
Recently, I have taken pies and cakes, and snacks to our new neighbors. We are aware when they are out of town, and we look out for each other, not in the creepy, Mrs. Kravitz kind of way. Although I’m not always the best with names, we smile and wave, and talk about the weather, and dogs, and kids, and weddings. We share stories and fences, and as Robert Frost correctly wrote, good fences do make good neighbors.
(Before I gloat too much about my neighborliness, I should probably apologize for the times I’ve chased dogs through these same people’s yards early in the morning, while still in my pajamas. And there was that time I yelled (in my most lady-like fashion) at my sweet dog Duke as he ran out into the road, “Get your ass back in the yard!” (sounding as if I was auditioning for a redneck reality show) at the very instant my down-the-street neighbor passed in front of our house with her dog. I halfway believe she thought I was talking to her. Sorry, Penny. I didn’t mean to scare you and Miss Lucy. And in my defense, I had been trying to round up Duke, may he rest in peace, for over 10 minutes, and his shenanigans were making me late for work). Sincere apologies to my mother, who didn’t raise me to be so “unfiltered.”
Fast forward to my new and improved mission to become more neighborly…
As I was doing the Couch to 5K routine the other morning, I spotted a young mother strolling her baby down the street. I was in full sprint, nearing the end of the driveway, heading straight for her, and when she was directly in front of me, I exclaimed, “HELLO!” and waved. O.M.G. Simmer Down, now! I thought. You don’t want to scare her! In my mind, however, I welcomed her to the neighborhood, and hoped she would enjoy raising her child in this place. I know we sure did. Even if I was a slacker neighbor, and the neighborhood children may have feared the organized, no-fun, take-your-shoes-off-before-entering-her-house lady, as they quickly peddled their bikes past my front porch. Did they think I was like Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose, who screamed at Scout and Jem and Dill, all the while hiding a Confederate pistol under her shawl? Maybe my legacy wouldn’t be that, and hopefully children wouldn’t remember me as the crazy cat lady who sat on her porch, watching the world pass by, as she studied her psychology textbook. Just watchin’ and diagnosin’.
All kidding aside, I am thankful that my kids grew up in a neighborhood where they spent their days riding bikes, fishing with friends, building forts and secret trails, playing sports, living their best carefree childhood, while enjoying the beauty of God’s creation.
As I enter into this new season of my life, I hope as a neighbor I will do better. It is my goal to replace Mrs. Kravitz with Mr. Rogers…
Won’t you be my neighbor? (Fingers crossed).