Even if your house is a mess: it’s never too late to meet your neighbors


My two kids and I just met our neighbors across the street. Normally this would not be a big deal, except that they moved in last January. Now it’s freaking August already, and we’re so late in introducing ourselves that if nothing happened we’d have avoided meeting them forever since (our thinking is) if you can’t meet people in eight months then obviously they must think that you think they’re not “worth” meeting.

Voices: Even if your house is a mess: it’s never too late to meet your neighbors

Eight months! My wife and I have always been impossibly neurotic and shy to the point that our neurosis tends to regenerate and clone itself. But eight months is a new record for us.

“Neurosis?” you say, disbelievingly.

All right, all right. The truth is, we just don’t want anyone to see our messy house! There, now I said it. What would happen if they saw that we have (gasp!) toys and (bulging eyeballs!) clothes on the floor?! Our whole illusion of being progressive and enlightened beings would totally be blown, and we would have to live with the fact that we are plain old regular messy people who would simply rather play with our kids than sort and fold laundry.

That’s why you’ve got to love the un-self consciousness of kids. Us big-brained neurotic adults had nothing to do with our meeting our neighbors across the street today. Our face-to-face encounter happened solely because our children took the initiative.

I’d like to describe it to you. Our meeting happened purely by chance. My kids and I came back from a late evening walk around the block just in time to catch the neighbor girl showing off her water balloon-smashing prowess on her front step. Since she was there, I let the kids play in the front yard while I dragged out the garden hose to quench our drooping hydrangeas—which at the time seemed like metaphor for the deep-rooted yet difficult to satisfy craving for human contact.

Fortunately, the neighbor girl smashing water balloons was thinking in more concrete terms. By calling attention to her smashing water balloons, she effectively broke through the [metaphorical] thin rubber membranes we neurotic folk often place around ourselves to prevent other humans from infiltrating our fragile sphere of existence—or to prevent strange eyeballs from seeing our living room.

To make a long story short, the the girl’s mom told her she could cross the street and play with my kids. Before I could stop them, the kids went inside our messy house while I stayed outside watering. In just a few minutes, they came out—and she invited us to her house where I finally met her mom. We talked about adult things—you know, jobs, the origin of pets, and how carpets are hard to keep clean. (I’m not complaining—small talk is awesome when you’ve been feeling invisible pressure to make it for eight months.)

The kids briefly revisited our house for a few minutes. The neighbor mom asked if I wanted any tomatoes. She said she had more than she needed, and I accepted and crossed the street—thankful that I had a couple minutes to pick up a few stray things. Yet while waiting in the living room, I resisted the urge to pick up the shoes that were scattered on the floor. Something told me, just let it be, and so I did. For once in your life, a small voice in the back of my brain that I typically ignore said, screw the household items that are not put away properly and forget the lack of design elements and the “blah” blue Mentos color that looked so good on the paint can but doesn’t look so swell anymore. Screw the dust and the cracker crumbs and the cobwebs. So you aren’t a feng shui master yet. If they wanna sue you, let them sue.

This isn’t about the mess, though. I think I’m just trying to say it simply feels good to meet with neighbors. And it seems right to let neigborhood kids who don’t know each other play with each other—if they want to play with each other—so they can decide for themselves if they want to play with each other again. It feels good to be yourself around the people who drink the same flavored city water as you. It feels good to know their names and to know they’re struggling with carpet issues, too. (It’s not like you hope they have carpet issues or anything like that, but it is reassuring to know that you’re not the only one in the universe who struggles.)

Sometimes it’s just plain nice to know that the people across the street might be a little more understanding than you give them credit for.