20: The Folks Next Door

20: The Folks Next Door

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grand and Great

The Folks Next Door

Occasionally, I say something that’s guaranteed to evoke a strong response. I tell people, “I live next door to my parents.” Their reaction tells me a lot about the relationship they have with their own parents. I’ve heard everything from abject horror, to wistful sighs accompanied by, “That must be so nice.”

In case you’re wondering, I’m not some psychologically dependent cling-on. My parents and I haven’t always been neighbors. For most of my adult life, I lived in a completely different (though, come to think of it, neighboring) community.

It was my last move, six years ago, that led us to share lot lines, garbage pick-up days and the same view of the night sky. My husband, three kids and I were looking for a larger home. At the same time, my parents wanted to downsize to a smaller, low-maintenance house. My husband, Greg, and I chose a subdivision and watched as our new house progressed from a hole in the ground to completion.

After looking at existing homes, my parents visited our builder to look at floor plans. They liked the area, but the visit was really a lark, or at least that’s the story I was told. As it turned out, the house they loved was offered only on the lot next to ours. After they studied the room layout and toured a model, my mom asked, “Would you mind if we lived so close?” She assured me that they wouldn’t be offended if we didn’t like the idea. Greg and I thought it would work out fine, and luckily, it has.

I can’t complain — the benefits have been enormous. Vacations are worry-free because we know that each of us will watch the other’s house, pick up the mail and collect the newspapers. We’re available for each other in the event that furniture needs moving (them) or kids need watching (us). My oldest son’s first paying job was mowing their lawn. And when we say it’s no trouble to bring back more takeout from the Chinese restaurant or pick up additional stamps at the post office, it really isn’t.

I’ve found that my parents are the only neighbors I can be brutally honest with. When my dad bragged about his cost-effective, makeshift central air-conditioning cover, I took him over to my kitchen window. I showed him how aesthetically pleasing his plastic garbage bag secured with duct tape was from our viewpoint. Shortly thereafter, the bag was replaced with a less creative, traditional cover.

Our kitchen windows are the only direct view of each other’s homes. Sometimes the timing of our kitchen duty will coincide, and I’ll wave from my side. If they notice me, they’ll wave back. Only once has this view posed a problem. On that occasion, I got up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water and noticed my mom awake in her kitchen. On a whim, I dialed her phone number. The frantic way she catapulted out of her chair made me realize there are times it’s best not to call.

I’ve learned that respecting each other’s time and space is the key to successfully living close to family members. Other relatives don’t believe me when I tell them days go by when I don’t even talk to my parents. My three sisters (they of the “better you than me” philosophy) will call asking, “Where are Mom and Dad? I’ve been trying to reach them all day.”

I usually don’t have an answer. Who can keep track of busy retired people? “You could do what I do when I can’t get hold of them,” I suggest.

“What?” they ask, waiting for the next-door neighbor secret.

“Leave a message on their machine. When they get home they’ll call you back.”

For some, life is a board game of cross-country moves to better job opportunities and bigger houses. Families keep in touch by phone, letter and e-mail and somehow they make it work. But I believe there’s no substitute for being nearby. My children know my parents in a way I never knew my own grandparents. On a warm summer day, my kids will interrupt valuable playing time to dash over to my parents’ yard for a hug from Grandma or to help Grandpa water his plants. It’s good for a kid to have a haven close to home.

This parent next-door thing has been working out so well that I’m already thinking ahead to my own retirement. I try to imagine one of my three children as a future nextdoor neighbor. When asked about that possibility, thirteenyear-old Charlie said, “I probably will want to live as far away from you as possible.”

The younger two are far more agreeable, in fact sixyear-old Jack has said he wants to live with me forever. That may be a little too close — but if he wants to move in with Grandma and Grandpa, it’s a deal.

~Karen McQuestion
Chicken Soup to Inspire a Woman’s Soul

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