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The Intense Joy of Loving My Neighbors' Children

Delight that doubles with twins

Photo by Tim Bish on Unsplash

So many good things come in pairs, like ears, socks and panda bears. But, best of all are the set of twins, with extra laughter, double grins.  — Anonymous

Downsizing Into Delight

“Downsizing” for us meant moving from a large two-story home on our twenty-five-acre property into a house one-quarter of the size. Our new home was a much smaller house that we had built years before for my husband’s mother, just about thirty yards away from our original Big House. As we got closer to retirement, we recognized that we didn’t need all that space and all that upkeep. Our older joints didn’t enjoy the treks up the stairs or the massive amount of floor space to vacuum and mop. We sold the “Big House” to a young professional couple who had fraternal twin girls, red-headed little toddlers. The twins were just a year old when our new neighbors moved in. I could have no idea how much pleasure those two little girls would bring me. Because the two houses were close together with several acres of front yards conjoining, my husband and I could watch the antics of the twins over the years. We watched them learn to walk, tumbling forward into the soft grass, giggling, screaming, or whining depending on how hard they had fallen. We smiled as we observed them running natural and naked through their front yard during potty-training. I can’t tell you how many times I laughed out loud at their antics as they lurked behind lilac bushes looking for each other, or as they danced around in the violet glow of a summer evening, frolicking with the fireflies.

Bravery and Boldness Come With Age

By the age of five, each of the girls would peek around the fence, spying on us as we sat on the patio, eating our al fresco dinner. No amount of coaxing would convince them that we presented no “stranger danger.” No amount of smiling, waving, and winking could get them to venture closer. The shy one wouldn’t even stand at the fence longer than a second. The brave one held eye contact, but wouldn’t walk into our space. It wasn’t until they turned six last spring that they got brave enough to start visiting. Talking to the girls’ parents, I mentioned that I would be thrilled if the girls would come and visit me, and their dad said that all I had to do was offer them a cookie. So I stocked the treat jars with all kinds of cookies and candies, resorting to the ever-popular food bribery. That was the start of an unexpected, rich and wonderful pleasure of getting to know these girls on a personal basis. At first, they’d come over for their “one-treat-a-day-and-you-have-to-ask-your-parents-if-you-can-have-it-now” routine. We’d exchange a few words before they would run back home, the shy one always leaving first while the brave one lingered on.

Camaraderie and Conversation

As the weather warmed, the visits grew to three or four a day. Eventually, even the treats didn’t matter. They came because they wanted to show me a new toy or a picture they’d drawn. They came to my house to break up the monotony of going to school online because of the pandemic. They came to read the books I had stocked on my shelf, remainders of my own daughters’ childhood. They came to talk and chatter. I am blessed. Three of my six grandchildren live far away. The other three live in a nearby town but have busy activity schedules, so I don’t get to see my own grandkids nearly as much as I see these twins, several times a day. Since I’m a freelance writer with multiple jobs, having them knock on the door several times a day sometimes breaks my concentration, but I never want to complain about that. This time is precious. The older they get, the less interesting the old neighbor lady next door will be, and their visits will slow down. But for now, I delight in their conversation and their questions. It’s so much fun to see them grow and for me to learn their individual personalities. One is shy, girly, smiley, and enjoys drawing. The other is bold, brave, and is fascinated with science, dragons, and dinosaurs.

The Bearers of the Paw-Paws

One day last summer, I look out the living room window to see the girls walking slowly, single file, each with a paper cup in her hand, bearing it like the wise men must have carried their treasures to the Christ-child. Each held a cup filled with ripe Paw-Paw fruit. While I’ve heard of the old fruit from a song my grandmother used to sing about “picking up paw-paws and puttin’ em in my pocket,” I had never seen them, much less tasted them. The brave twin said, “You’ve got to have these! My mom had them when she grew up on their farm, and we found these in the woods where our cabin is.” Even the shy one spoke up. “You’ll like them. We want you to eat these. They taste like banana pudding.” She was right. They tasted like smashed bananas with a bit of citrus undertone. They were good, but the memory was made even sweeter by the knowledge that these two little girls cared enough about me to deliver a secret treasure.

Missing Them More Than I Would Ever Have Imagined

My husband and I pack up our RV and head south to avoid the brutal, gray, Midwestern winters, leaving right after Christmas and returning mid-April for the beginning of spring in Illinois. I never would have imagined how much I miss my daily visits with those red-headed, beautiful, neighbor children.  — How much I miss seeing their carefree clothing choices. One visit they’ll arrive in mismatched pajama pieces with wild hair. The next, they will have changed into fancy dresses and sparkly shoes. Another visit will bring them attired in colorful rain boots and slickers, or they’ll don animal-themed hooded towels and pretend to be unicorns or dogs or dinos.  — How much I miss just knowing what they’re thinking; hearing what they did in school, what they are learning, what subjects they like.  — How much I miss hearing those little girl voices — even the squeals — so reminiscent of the times when my own girls’ voices, (both now grown with kids of their own), floated through the house.  — How much I miss them coming to get biscuits to give to the three family dogs we have between our two families.

The Letters of Six-Year-Olds

While we’ve been gone, I’ve been sending the girls weekly notes to let them know I’m thinking of them even though I’m away. My cards include poems I’ve written for them, drawings I’ve made, little bullet points of info about the animals and scenery here, and an occasional joke or riddle suitable for younger children. Colored pencils and highlighters mark words and add illustrations — because I don’t want my letters to be boring. They have written back on their own animal-themed cards in the delightful lingo of six-year-olds, letters that I treasure and plan to keep to share at their graduation parties or wedding rehearsals. How could I not treasure these snippets of affection painstakingly written by six-year-olds? These are masterpieces, labors of love for young children to produce, usually written in crayon or colored marker. “I hope you have a good time at Flordia! Why did superman flush the toilet? Because it was his duty.” “I hope you have a wonderful time at your vacation.” “Have you seen any creatures? I miss you.” “When are you coming home? My birthday is April 21st. I want a bearded dragon. I think I’ll get one too.” “I LIK you. I miss you!” My birthday is coming. I want a new toy. It’s a baby doll and peacock. We’ll definitely be home for their birthday. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.

The Difference Is…

Like so many parents, I look back on all the things I could have done better in raising my own children. I was too serious. Too harried. Too focused on work. I was too worried about screwing up their lives by doing something wrong that I forgot to have fun. I overcompensated for a divorce. The older they got, the more I worried about discipline.

Was I too lax? Should I have been harsher? Was I supposed to ground them? Try to use rational argument with them? Was I supposed to befriend them or feud with them? With the neighbor children, I don’t have to worry about disciplining them. I don’t have to wage war against them to enforce curfews, hemlines, makeup use, homework assignments, or dating policies. I don’t lose sleep over whether or not I’m messing up their lives. I’m not responsible for their whereabouts, their manners, or their grades. My only responsibility is to be a compassionate, wise, and loving neighbor, a kind of substitute auntie or granny who just simply enjoys them.

Surprised by Love

All my life, I’ve been taught to love my neighbors. I had no idea that loving my neighbors’ children would bring me such intense joy and that those twin girls would so dramatically double my delight.

Photo by Syd Wachs on Unsplash

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