by Linda Nusbaum
They live next door, our next-door neighbors. We’ve known them for many years. We feel so close to them we have even given them their own special name. We refer to them simply as the Nextdoors– no “neighbor” attached. That would be too impersonal.
My husband and I have conversations about them: “I saw the Nextdoors today.” “Let’s invite the Nextdoors over next week.” It’s our way of communicating to each other how we feel about them and how important they are in our lives. The title conveys this to both of us.
There’s a mom, a dad and two wonderful children. We have had the pleasure of knowing the kids since their births. They are four and seven years old. Every time I see or hear them, I feel the same feelings I felt the first time I held them as infants. I feel love, lots and lots of love, kid love, playful love, happy singing-in-my-heart love.
The kids call me Lindy. It is their special name for me. They scream it when they see or hear me. They release their words with child abandon, free, full-hearted. It slays me as if cupid himself sent an arrow.
A solid fence separates our back yards. During the summer when I’m in my yard and the kids are in theirs, we communicate in our own unique way. We hear each other’s voices. The next word from their side is screamed– “Lindy!”– and it’s the most inviting musical sound ever. I answer immediately, matching their volume and intensity, “Hey! Who’s that?” The kids sound similar so it’s hard to be sure. One or both will yell out their names. I answer with, “Hey! What are you doing?”
Sometimes if the young one’s talking I can’t understand him. He’s still learning to enunciate. It doesn’t matter though; this conversation is not about the dialogue. We feel each other’s enthusiasm and the intent regardless of what is being said. They are looking for our connection and so am I.
So, whatever is being said, I answer back, “That’s great!” A few more garbled words usually follow and then I finish the conversation with, “O.K. I have to go in now.” They respond, “O.K.” And then comes the best part, either I start or they start but it always ends with: “I love you,” “I love you too.”
Sometimes when their dad is outside, he will pick up a child and hold him above the fence so we can see each other, which adds a visual element to the back and forth. And when we see each other there is even more screaming and gleeful exchanges. It’s so easy to love them.
I see them often on the street in front of our houses. When they spy me they run towards me and shower me with hugs. I bend down on my knees and yell “Hey!” as they approach. They smash into me with flailing arms as we grab each other’s legs, middle and head. It lasts only a second and then they are off playing. It’s on to the next thing with children. As a grown-up, I get to savor these encounters. They are some of the best parts of the day.
Last Sunday morning while driving on my street I see mom and her two children walking single file. They are dressed in fancy clothes. I roll my window down and greet them with, “Hey!” “Lindy!” they scream out. “Where are you going?” I ask. Mom answers with urgency, “We’re going to church.” Her hurried response signals me. I get her message. Don’t delay the kids; we’re going to be late.
I follow her cue and say, “Great! I’ll see you when you get back! Bye!” The kids call out, “Bye!” I watch them in my rear-view mirror: statuesque mom and her brood. I am reminded of a mama duck and her little ducklings as they head down the street.
That evening I am walking my dog with a neighbor and her dog. We see the dad drive up in front of his house. Dad gets out of his truck and my friend’s dog runs to him. He pets the animal and then he reaches out to pet mine. He tells us about his day, first painting and then playing his beloved hockey. He tells us his team wins the game.
It’s time for me to go inside. I yell out a good-bye to both. “Good night, kids.” “Good night, Linda,” I hear from my friend. “Good night, Lindy,” I hear from the dad, another love arrow straight to my heart. Thank you, Nextdoors.