Howdy, friends. This is a sneak peek at my column for this Sunday. I apologize for the weird paragraph issues. No matter how many times I copy and paste it into here, it keeps deleting the breaks. I’ll try to fix it later:
We moved into a new house this summer – trading in our central Sioux Falls home for one that feels firmly rooted in suburbia, complete with a huge kitchen and a giant back yard.
It’s kind of awesome. Sure, I miss things about living near downtown – like walking to parades and being able to zip home from work if I need to. But I don’t miss having no counter or closet space. And I’m pretty sure once the snow starts, I’m going to be even more thrilled with our attached garage – the first one I’ve had in my life. Oh, the luxury.
Those creature comforts make the sting of a bigger mortgage a bit softer, but they weren’t the main reasons we moved (OK, maybe closet space was one of my own personal reasons, but don’t tell my husband).
Really I wanted a back yard. And kids next door. I wanted Jack, 6, and Viv, 3, to have lots of little friends to play with outside. Our old yard had a very odd configuration that meant we spent most of our outside time playing in our long driveway. That was great for learning to ride a bike, and we were a block from McKennan Park, so we could get a lot of our running around done there.
But it also meant I had to be outside with them all the time. I couldn’t see them from the kitchen window, and they still are a little too young to be on their own out there.
At our new house (swoon), we have a giant yard. It’s all grass. Glorious, green grass (I don’t think my husband misses the insane amount of landscaping we had at our old house). My in-laws bought us a swingset for a housewarming gift, and Philip and his brother Tom put it up outside the kitchen window.
It’s been a fun transition to get to know our new neighborhood, and to realize that instead of meeting everyone from sitting on our front porch (which we no longer have), we make friends with the people behind us, when we’re all out on our decks. So far, everyone has been pretty friendly – and welcoming to Jack and Viv and their hundreds of questions.
But one of the best parts has been watching Viv make friends with our neighbor, Gia. They’re a few months apart in age, and already they are frenemies. I met my best friend, Laurie, when I was 5 and she was 4, and our parents moved in next door to each other. We weren’t neighbors for long, but built a lifelong bond. Now, 35 years later, I still talk to her every day.
So I look at Gia, and I think, is this Viv’s best friend? I hope so. It’s wonderful to have someone who gets jokes that go back decades.
And, of course, remembers insults and injuries. Laurie likes to remind me about the time I threw her Barbie kitchen across the garage in a fit of rage and broke it. I swear it comes up at least every few weeks. In an email it could be, “Sorry you’re having a bad day. Maybe you should go throw a Barbie kitchen to make yourself feel better.”
As I watch Viv and Gia play, I keep wondering what their Barbie kitchen moment will be. They’ve already had a few doozies in the past few months. There’s a lot of “I’m going home!” Followed by slammed screen doors, stomping and then crying.
I try not to intervene too much. I don’t remember my parents helping Laurie and I work it out (it was 1980, they were too busy smoking cigarettes and ignoring us). Viv and Gia need to figure out how to be a friend. And almost every time, one or the other comes walking back apologizing and ready to play again.
It’s pretty fun to watch. And even more fun to listen to them make up stories and games. Right now they love pretending to camp in our living room, which involves hauling an inordinate amount of toys from the perfectly good playroom to the perfectly clean living room and dumping them all over. Lots of baby dolls, blankets, and random toy strollers. Sometimes Jack gets in on the action and helps them drag out the sleeping bags.
They also play some random games in the backyard with Gia and her brother, and the two kids on the other side of us. I love listening to their little voices as they make things up, argue, work it out and invent something else. This summer they were barefoot and dirty and sweaty and loud and awesome.
The best part is, I can see and hear them from inside. They work their own arguments out. And so far only once has that turned out poorly. I heard Viv crying that her balloon (from a birthday party) was stuck in the playset. I kept listening, thinking, well, if I can hear them talking, they haven’t hung themselves on the string yet. I heard the door open and close, and then the crying turned real.
You know the difference between whiny crying and full-on sobbing.
I ran outside, and there was Viv, staring forlornly at the sky as huge, huge tears rolled down her cheeks. Her balloon was just floating away, higher and higher and higher.
Jack stood there, too, with a pair of scissors.
“I tried to help her, mom! I just wanted to help!” he said before I could even ask what happened.
“It’s higher and higher! I can’t get it! I tried to reach it and I can’t!” Viv sobbed.
I sat in the grass, pulled her into my lap and the three of us talked about helium. It was a good lesson on having good intentions. On science. On imagination, when I told them the balloon probably floated up to a cloud where our dog Harley lives now, and he was holding onto it. With his paw, I guess.
They bought it.
We looked into the sky, as the balloon got smaller and smaller, and I thought about how I loved the feel of our new grass under my legs. How proud I was of Jack for trying to solve his sister’s problem. And of how life is just made of these little tiny moments, and every day their childhood floats farther and farther from me.
It was sweet and heartbreaking and fleeting.
I don’t remember what happened next, but someone probably kicked someone else, or they begged for a snack or wanted to watch TV or some other reality-check about how annoying parenting is, overall.
But for a minute, it felt like my own childhood – green grass, open sky and all the time in the world.