We live in a neighborhood that is full of families with children. Our two-story home is surrounded on all sides by smaller ranch-style homes. As long as we've lived here, these particular homes have been occupied by people without children.
I spend a good part of the day in my kitchen. In fact, it was that very room that sold us on the house. I wasn't especially in love with this house, but my mother raised a good point: the kitchen has several windows that allow you to see almost all of the backyard. There was already a play set in the backyard, and my mother insisted that I would find those windows and that backyard priceless when I needed to be in the kitchen and the children wanted to be outside. Of course, she was right.
Needless to say, I spend a lot of time looking out of those windows. Which means I also spend a lot of time looking at my neighbor.
I don't know her at all. I know that she's an older lady who seems to be living by herself. We've said hello a few times, made some idle chit chat about our gardens, but it's obvious that she isn't interested in forming any kind of relationship beyond a neighborly wave now and then. I was a little sad at first. The older gentlemen that lived there previously was so sweet and kind. He loved leaning over the fence and shooting the breeze. He often came bearing peaches or peppers. I'm over the fact that she's not the conversational type, but because I know so little about her, I can't help imagining.
I see her first thing in the morning. When the weather was warmer, she'd sit on her patio with her coffee and the paper. She was dressed in casual clothes, ready for the day. I notice her during the day, puttering in her vegetable garden or tending to her flowers. On weekend evenings, I see smoke curling up from her grill. I hear clinking glasses on the patio table and the laughter and chatter of casual conversation among friends.
I watch because she's there. I linger because I'm envious. What is it like to wake up in the morning and not rush to throw on ratty yoga pants and run a brush through your hair because your toddler always wakes up precisely one minute before your alarm goes off, no matter what time you set it for? What is it like to drink your coffee and look at the paper without a single interruption? What is it like to decide you're going to work in your garden, and not get into a tug of war with your toddler over whose turn it is to use the hoe? What is it like to entertain guests and linger over conversations, instead of stilted conversations and lost trains of thought brought on by children who are usually seen and heard?
Basically, what is it like to have hour upon hour before you with no one but yourself to be responsible for?
For me, it seems like a dream at times. The projects I would tackle! The books I would read! The amazing meals I would cook! The places I'd go!
And then I wonder, what if she's watching me? I wonder if she has children that have grown up and moved on. If she does, I wonder if she watches me with her own kind of envy. Maybe she remembers all too well those early mornings. Maybe she remembers what it was like to be greeted every day as if you are the greatest, most important person on the face of the earth. Maybe she remembers the sweetness of sleepy bodies and footed pj's. Maybe she remembers the busyness of her days, how she did so much. Not big projects, but lunches made, stories read, clothes washed, tears dried, games played. Maybe she remembers those meals, when children interrupted because they actually wanted to share everything with you, when a simple sandwich and cut-up fruit could be the Best Meal Ever!
I hope that if she is watching, she's remembering those days with fondness. I hope she sees me enjoying (most) of the moments of my day. I hope that when I'm older and my children have moved on, my house backs up to a young family. I'll be the leaning-over-the-fence type, I think. I'll be a little envious, but not too much. After all, I'll be the one with leisurely showers, quiet time with my coffee and grandchildren.