When we moved here the paddock next door looked like this:
There was a For Sale sign at the gate but it had been there for years so it didn’t occur to us that it might really mean anything. Then someone turned up and wandered around speculatively and we went, woah! What if someone buys it? We’d have to look at a house instead of a view!
But they went away and over the next couple of years two or three lots of people trampled through the blackberry and gorse and went away again and we didn’t think anything more of it. Until some sheep turned up and the For Sale sign disappeared and the news filtered along the grapevine that its principal use was no longer going to be Our View. I don’t mean the sheep bought it, btw. They were just the advance party.
Then it looked like this:
What it lacked in insulation it made up for in indoor-outdoor flow.
Then it looked like this:
And now it’s a whole house, with walls and ceiling and the full nine yards. I don’t have a photo though because that would just be stalkery.
And then the people moved in and it turned out to be worth losing a bit of the view.
They considerately brought children who pretty well match ours. Two older girls who are friends with Amy, a boy the same age as Noah and a younger girl who is four years older than Cassia but is her special friend anyway. Nobody for Daniel but that’s okay because the other next-door has that covered.
There have been many, many summer days when the average head-count around here (although it varies minute by minute according to which mum is handing out the best afternoon tea) is eight or nine and you know what? The more there are the easier it is. Everyone has their own buddy and if it’s not working out they can go and join someone else. It works especially well for Cassia who is thrilled beyond words at feeling like a big kid because she has a bunch of other big kids to play with. There’s always someone doing something that’s manageable for a three-year-old who thinks she’s eight. Her particular friend from next door is gentle, kind and patient and Cassia adores her. It’s not unknown for me to send a text message asking for her to be sent over so that Cassia will have something to do other than attach herself to me. There’s a lot of housework around here that never would have got done without Sophie. (Obviously, Sophie can’t do my parenting for me all the time, which is why there’s generally a whole lot of housework still not done). Sometimes I can’t manage to get Cassia dressed or her hair brushed so Sophie does that, too. It takes a village.
The line between ours and theirs has become fairly blurred. One Saturday morning about a year ago I heard Cassia wake up and because it was only 7:30 and the house was so quiet and still I went to her room to get her before she woke anyone else. When we got back to the lounge a minute later, there was next-door’s Mr Four sitting in the toy corner with a half-built block tower. He had come over, wandered inside and made a start on the day’s play on his own initiative. I hadn’t heard a thing and said ‘Where did you come from?’ He gave me the sort of look that such a dumb question deserves, said ‘My place’ and carried on with his construction.
Another day we arrived home from school and as the kids were walking from the car to the house Noah asked the usual question about what might be available food-wise. My answer, whatever it was, was not satisfactory so he changed course toward the neighbours’ and casually said ‘I’m just going to Nathan’s for afternoon tea’.
Watching our children spend whole weekends playing with the neighbourhood kids makes me think that we’re doing something right in this life that we’ve chosen for them, but it’s bigger than that. Between us, the neighbours on both sides and the next family up the road there will in the nearish future be twelve teenagers, oh yes there will. It’s a bit daunting but we’re doing some of the groundwork now. We know each other’s kids. We know the people that our teenagers-to-be will be driving, partying and making the important decisions of adolescence with. They know that each home is open to them and that every parent will parent them, which will come in handy when the biological adult-child relationships are not working out so well. The grown-ups have the same sort of friendship that the kids do except it’s cemented by wine rather than bubble-gum, so nobody’s going to be able to get away with much in the way of lying about where they’re spending the night or what other parents are letting their children do.
That’s the hope, anyway. If it all goes custard-shaped we still have the wine, and all these photos to help us relive the days when, although we’re not quite sure whose pond they’re swimming in or which orchard they’re stripping like locusts, we are at least certain that their only mode of transport is the waewae express and they still think the opposite sex is gross. Long may it last.