All of the houses in the neighborhood where I live look the same. When I first moved in a year ago, for a full two weeks, I would pull into the wrong driveway. My kids thought it was hysterical, and often didn’t even mention the wrong turn. They only giggled. I finally put a funky pillow on my porch in order to help me find my house.
Almost every single week, I get postcards from my neighborhood association about my misdeeds. Some of my crimes include having too much mulch delivered to the driveway of my house, putting my trash out front two hours too early, failing to plant a shrub in front of my garbage can that is not visible on the side of my house, using water barrels for conservation, and so on…. I have so many postcards that am going to wallpaper a bathroom one day with them!
Most of my neighbors pull into their garages and don’t speak to one another. One neighbor, who I believe regularly reports me for these weekly infractions, has never walked across the street to meet me.
Instead of quaint “mom and pop” restaurants, I am surrounded by big box stores and restaurant chains. The streets are lined with imported crape myrtles: hardy but not native. At least it is something green and not more cement.
Where were the kids?
The first summer here, there were no kids playing in the streets. There were no sounds of children in the backyards. No happy block parties. When we first moved in, we were invited to a party by a neighbor several streets over. I was thrilled. I was finally going to meet some people. Sadly, it wasn’t a true neighborhood party. They were very kind people but with ulterior motives. They wanted us over to join a pyramid scheme.
I took the opportunity to meet as many neighbors as possible. It was unbelievable; almost everyone I met said, “I’ve lived here for 17 (or 3, or 5, or 7) years and don’t know any of the these people.” Many only knew their neighbor directly next to them by necessity: a golf ball size hail storm bringing everyone out of their houses to check the damage or a letter delivered to the wrong address. It seemed to me, no real relationships were developed from these brief encounters. Everyone mostly kept to themselves.
My neighborhood was not cultivating community.
I have always lived in an old and charming home. My neighborhoods have always been eclectic communities with generous green spaces. Everyone knew their neighbors and often got together socially. When I first got here, I was devastated, but moving to Suburbia wasn’t about me. Instead of choosing where I wanted to be, I was choosing where my family needed to be. Two of my kids needed special services. My husband needed less travel time. I needed an education for the kids I could rely on instead of piecing it together every single year. I also needed a break from struggling to fix all the problems I couldn’t fix on my own.
So, I made another choice. Instead of falling into despair, I chose to make a community. I started a book club. I walked to all of my neighbors and met them. Additionally, I invited a group of neighbors, who didn’t know each other even though they all lived on the same street, to Shakespeare in the Park. I chose to try.
The results of this choice have exceeded my expectations.
My kids are excited in the morning because they ADORE their schools. The services for my kids’ IEP and 504s are dream scenarios. I get texts from teachers that are working with my kids about personal things happening that are positive. The teachers ask for recent research, and they want to meet with me to give me more support. My kids don’t care that our house matches every house on the block because they are happy.
Along the way, I’ve met some really lovely people who are also seeking a sense of community from the neighborhood. Making the choice to put forth an effort allowed others to come out of their houses and be part of something. Now that I am happy too, I don’t care about the aesthetics of my neighborhood so much either.
I didn’t want to live in Suburbia. I still stand out like a sore thumb, and the PTA ladies probably run the other way when they see me, but I have learned some big lessons. In the past year, I have finally learned that it truly doesn’t matter where you live. You can make any house a home and any neighborhood a community if you choose to do it. You don’t have to hate where you live.