Notes on the journey of motherhood

On Neighbourhood Reserve

I spoke to mum on the phone today. We ran through our plans for next week, and our usual ‘what we did today’. Though this time, it wasn’t a typical day.

“I went to a funeral this afternoon”, she said.

The funeral was for her former neighbour, Mrs Holland, who had lived across the street from her parents’ house for around 40 years. This was where mum grew up with her 2 sisters, her brother and a flock of neighbourhood kids. It was the kind of street where everybody knew everybody, and children played freely, regardless of fence lines or street boundaries.

None of these families live on the street anymore – having grown up or passed away – and yet they all came together to celebrate the life of this generous, contented soul who shared their stories and cups of tea for half a lifetime.

I wonder if neighbourhoods like this still exist in our society. We move so often, always searching for our ‘dream home’, or trying to rebuild our lives after a broken home, and I wonder what relationships we miss out on in this endless pursuit of a new life.

Our neighbours are similar in age to Mr Karen and I, with 2 boys similar in age to ours. Mr and Mrs Neighbour are always there if we need a favour or a cup of milk or even just a chat. Boy 1 often hangs over the side fence calling out for Mrs Neighbour or T, their eldest, fishing for a chat or a play date. Sometimes they do synchronised trampolining, calling out to each other over the side fence – between bounces – on their respective trampolines. On days like this I wish to cut a hole in the side fence so the boys can play freely between our two yards.

I hate the thought of moving away from such good neighbours. If we ever sold our house, the sales blurb would read “1930s weatherboard, 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, great neighbours …”

While we treasure our next-door neighbours, I have yet to meet any of the families on the other side of the street. Two new families have moved to our neighbourhood in the past 2 years and I have yet to extend that proverbial plate of scones to welcome them and say hello. I suck. I think my heart is in the right place, but my head: I’m thinking about gluten intolerance and how to make nut-free, sugar-free, dairy-free ‘Welcome to the Neighbourhood, sorry about your taste buds’ food. It all seems more difficult than it should be.

What are my excuses? We’re renovating. I’ve got a baby. I’ve got 3 pre-schoolers. I’m busy. These are all pretty poor reasons. Both of these families have kids similar in age to ours. We live on the same patch. There’s no excuse really, is there?

If I plan to live in this house for 40 years, I’d better introduce myself to the neighbours. There is tea to be drunk, and with all these children between us, there are far too many stories to keep to ourselves.

Do you chat to your neighbours?

I love this illustration by Freya Blackwood, taken from Amy and Louis by Libby Gleeson.
[Image credit]

13 Responses to “On Neighbourhood Reserve”

  1. Jillian

    I have been thinking about this as well. I have moved around a lot for work and it is very unsettling making those connections again. My previous neighbourhood was a bit remotely located, so the neighbours were very friendly, they came and introduced themselves on our first night in the house. We stayed in their house when they were away when we were renovating ours. Other neighbours looked after our dogs and we were always lending a hand for numerous other locals with their garden and building projects. There was apark right in front of our house where all the kids would meet after school. The Mums would meet on a Friday for a little drink and chat and the Men would play Tennis. I miss this so much.

    Our new place of 6 months is nothing like this. The geography and demographic is very different. There is a young couple across the road who have just had a baby ( 6 weeks ago). For months now we have been saying “Hello”. They either are very shy or have decided they dont like us. I really want to go and pop over a gift and a bunch of flowers but I keep copping out. I keep thinking it will make them feel awkward, or we are only renting so maybe they dont want to get involved. But I should just do it regardless.

    Great post, thank you.


  2. fearfuladventurer

    My neighbours won’t even return a smile.

    We’ve lived next door to them for three years now, and, despite my efforts, they refuse to smile, say hello, or return a wave. Worst thing is, since we live in the city, our homes are almost touching. Our courtyards actually do touch, and I often hear the matriarch yelling at her 30 year old son for not cleaning his room (!).

    When I got back from traveling the South Pacific, I said “Hello!” to every passing stranger in the city. But my friendliness wasn’t well received (“Why are you talking to me, creep?). I’d forgotten that, to be a decent, compliant citizen of a city, one must act withdrawn, private and cold. We must pretend like we’re separate aliens species

    We’re all sharing the same human experience, isn’t that worth a “Hello”? We’re walking down the same street, or shopping in the same market, or laying in the same park — doesn’t that deserve a “Hello!”? In the whole entire globe, my neighbours live, eat, sleep, breathe, cry, fight, and yell just inches from where I do the same thing. But somehow, this isn’t spectacular enough to warrant any kind of friendly acknowledgment.

  3. InkPaperPen

    We always seem to be on the same train of thought – I have just been thinking about this! Thinking about how very lucky we are in Margaret River to have an old school sense of community. From neighbours to the local police to post office workers to teachers, everyone knows everyone at the end of the day, or at the very least everyone recognizes everyone else . Our actual next door neighbours have kids a lot older than ours, but the mum is the local librarian so we see her when we visit the library and the park across the road is packed with kids from the street every afternoon. It’s nice. And feels very safe.

    I used to do the synchronized trampolining with my next door neighbour when I was little and we really did beg our parents to knock a hole in the fence. But they never did…sob!

  4. Lindy

    This is a great blog Karen and brought a tear to my eye. Having been brought up in such a close little community as mentioned above I often think of how little I know the neighbours around me here. I give a smile and a wave and sometimes chat to the man over the road but we really dont know each other like the neighbours of my childhood. I often feel guilty because i havent made an effort to get to know the neighbours who live next door who have lived there now over a year. They did get my back up when in the first two weeks of living there they had a party and punched a hole through our joining fence. I miss the old neighbourhood I was brought up in when the neighbours were like family. Life is so busy now, off to work early, driving kids back and forth to different sporting activities that we hardly see the neighbours. Sad, but true!

  5. tinsenpup

    You’re lucky to have great neighbors. We say ‘Hi,’ to ours and chat when necessary, but they are all retired and/or elderly and seem very focused on ornamental gardening and whatnot. We’re the ones living in the unkempt rental house on the corner, racing around living life. There’s not a lot of common ground really.

  6. Michele

    We’ve lived in our house about a year and a half and while everyone waves and says hello (and helped me chase my dog when she got out), we haven’t really gotten to know anyone. I had good intentions of introducing myself, but winter came, no one was out, and by the time spring rolled around, I thought “what is the point?” The only person who does talk to us is our 90-something year old neighbor, but only to complain about how we are flooding her basement (not true). The people on the other side of us are getting ready to move out. Maybe I can start fresh with the new people who move in!

  7. Catherine

    I have had this conversation with both my brothers (who live in different cities from me) in the last 3 weeks (which shows how topical you are!) and NONE of us have any relationship with our neighbors beyond waving. I believe it is a generational thing because my mother is still in touch with the neighbors we had growing up.

    My excuse (one of many) all of our current neighbors are at the parenting stage of life with young children. We’re not and so it’s that much harder to connect. Oh and we have what appears to be a cult two houses down.

  8. Steffani Packard

    I grew up living with my grandparents for quite a few years and had so many friends on our block. We would run to each others houses barefoot and have tons of fun playing in the sprinkle and jump roping. Now when I drive through their neighborhood, I always tell my boyfriend which friend used to live where. I’m sad that I don’t know anyone in the neighborhood anymore, and it’s even more sad to not see tons of kids running around like their used to be.

    Luckily I am gluten free, so I can make a quick allergy free food for a neighbor, but it doesn’t seem as appreciated as it used to be! It seems that we’re all too quick to ‘judge’ our neighbor and decided if we like them or not.

    My last neighbors were great people and we would have dinner at each others houses a couple times a week, but over time we both moved. I hope to find neighbors like that again!

  9. Kym Piez

    There is something so beautiful about families who have lived next door to each other for the whole of their lives. My mother had a home like that and neighbours that she’s known her whole life. It’s sooo beautiful.

    As for us, I’ve never known our neighbours until four years ago. We purchased our first home in Melbourne and know ALL our neighbours. Especially the ones across the road and the ones next door. We borrow sugar, eggs, and have random cups of tea as well as chats in the driveway on our way out/home/picking up the kids.

    It’s super special and I highly recommend it! xx


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