I moved into our home ten years ago this month, the year our tiny house on the corner of our block turned 100. Kyle and I were newlyweds with grateful hearts for our home in a neighborhood we knew to be ideal for us: in the heart of our beloved city, Seattle, with all of our favorite spots easily accessible by foot or bicycle.
I had by that time only had a few brief interactions with neighbors; Kyle had bought the house a year before we were married and I moved in, and knew the neighbors only slightly better. As we settled into married life, we also began settling into our own unique neighborhood setting.
Our first neighbor observations included an elderly man with a scruffy old white dog who together walked by every evening and sat for a spell on the edge of our backyard lawn, shaded by the trees. It didn’t take long for us to join them out there and befriend them both. Bud had lived in the neighborhood since his teenage years and told us stories about the “old days” particular to our street—he was a treasure trove of amusing accounts and fascinating details. We relished our time with him. Bud’s daily walk-and-rest-in-our-backyard ritual became a ritual for us as well.
Sometime after Bud passed away we got a sweet little dog and built a fence to enclose our backyard. But we made sure to build a low fence—one high enough to keep the dog in, but low enough to entertain spontaneous conversation with our neighbors and passersby.
At this point I feel a need to mention that I am a very content introvert, drawn out by the natural, joyful, and generous extroversion of my husband, Kyle. Without knowing it, in many ways he was teaching me in those early years of our marriage the art of reaching out and engaging with those in our neighborhood without being self-conscious or over-thinking it.
Neighbors walking dogs were invited into our backyard so our dogs could get acquainted and play. And through small talk we connected, felt our roots winding down through the soil of our souls, attaching us to this place, and to these diverse people around us. The small, seemingly insignificant moments of interaction began quickly to add up to a life—a beautiful and interesting life that we loved.
Looking back at those early years some of my favorite moments were the simplest—jewels of joy and contentment wrapped in the outwardly mundane: peeling apples for pie on the back deck, with golden light flickering through the trees and Kyle working in the backyard; hearing a familiar call of hello to us from a neighbor arriving home from work; morning chit-chat with the retired professor across the street.
A few years later the neighbors next door and diagonal to us both started having babies, and we weren’t that far behind. Our first two boys came 15 months apart, and our second was a shared pregnancy with both neighboring families. We had all boys between us—six little ones establishing their place in the neighborhood and in our hearts. Kyle and I have added one more boy since then, with our fourth son due this summer.
Our boys are living a quintessential boyhood dream: running from backyard to backyard in a pack; making up games involving spies and swordfights, samurais, and spaceship; snow forts and snowball fights on rare snow days in winter; sprinklers, squirt-guns, and water-balloon wars; skinned knees and dirt-smeared suntanned faces in the summertime. The moms, dear friends of mine by now, Wendy and Gina and I commiserate and celebrate the particular challenges and joys of being “boy moms,” and my heart rests, unanxious about my parenting in their presence.
As neighbors and friends in community are often prone to do we bring meals when needed and surprise each other with iced afternoon coffees or plates of cookies or a simple bouquet of flowers or a movie night for all the kids. We help each other out with childcare needs—often on short notice—with ease and joy. We loan and borrow tools and cups of sugar. We share life.
We live life, yes, as neighbors in a unique and particular way, with a day-to-day authenticity and intimacy, a transparency that is similar to that of family. And just like family, we don’t get to choose our neighbors! But that’s also the beauty of it: Every day there they are, seeing us, or hearing us (and us, them) at our best, at our exhausted or stressed out worst, and also in the midst of our growing.
What a gift to do life with neighbors, to know and be known in our imperfections, our quirks, our beauty.
Recently, with baby boy number four on the way, Kyle and I earnestly began to wonder if we should move to a bigger house with more land. We even began house hunting a bit, picturing a life for our family elsewhere…
Oh, but our neighbors! Our neighborhood. Could my heart give up summertime multi-family bike rides to Greenlake for after-dinner sunset swims, all the boys racing and laughing? Or a backyard full of friends spontaneously gathered, who’ve known us and us them through significant seasons of life? Yes, we could start over some place else, but these relationships nurtured over time, and even the regular passersby and familiar faces yet without names, give comfort and continuity to our lives and are worth far more to us than a larger home and simply more space.
Even though it feels as though we are bursting at the seams in this tiny 110-year-old house, all it takes is a knock at the door by one of the neighborhood boys looking for one of our own (or all three!), or seeing a neighbor’s face light up when we pass them a handful of ripe, juicy plums off our tree and over the waist-high fence to remind us that here we are as rich and as blessed as we could ever be. Our neighborhood: a place where we belong and feel vital, a place where we are privileged to cultivate a deep sense of belonging, too, for each one planted and growing here among us. We look forward with joy to the years ahead of us yet, years that will be filled, no doubt, with our own collective neighborhood stories. What an honor to play our parts, creatively, uniquely, in all that will unfold before us in the days and years to come.
Kristen Gough is a woman who enjoys the rich beauty of life while bearing a tenderness towards the deep, aching hardships also present in the world. She loves adventuring, dreaming, creating, and laughing with her family, a bowl of ice cream at the end of the day, and growing flowers in her garden to give away to neighbors and friends. She can often be found in the kitchen prepping food for her boys and their friends, or running on woodland trails throughout her beloved city of Seattle. Once upon a time she wrote and recorded songs in her home studio, and dreams of doing so again someday. In the meantime, writing helps to fulfill a longing to bring beauty and hope into the world.