Friday, October 28, 2016

A Beautiful Day for a Neighbor

Given my middle child's recent obsession with Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, I am lucky my head hasn't yet exploded from having the theme song on a continual stuck loop in my head. Seriously...stuck there ALL. DAY. LONG.

But today, it felt a little bit like reality.

Some of you might remember that when we moved in here we saw a long list of yard projects looming before us. About a month ago, I decided to tackle the never-ending hedge that was attempting to take over the road on the side of our house. Rather than pay $1000 to have the hedge removed or severely trimmed, I decided to make it into a row of trees.

I'm not going to lie. I'm pretty pleased with my thrifty plan that turned out to actually look rather stately.

Used to be an overgrown hedge, now a tree lined street!
But the saving of the money in cutting them down also meant that I was left with a backyard full of tree limbs. TONS of tree limbs. And our county doesn't have any kind of limb or leaf pickup. (Really, Chesterfield?)

Last week I called a tree company to get an estimate on hauling all the limbs away. $350 to load up a truck, my friends.

Seeing all my hard work on saving money quickly slipping away, I tried to reason that this was at least still significantly less money than having that company trim or pull them out.

So.

I happened to mention this to a new neighbor who is fast becoming a good friend (and whose son is my son's playmate just about every day now and has thus made my day.)

Her reply?

"STOP. Don't do it."

And within minutes she had arranged for us to borrow a different neighbor's truck. His words to her when she explained what I was going to do to take care of the limbs: "We don't pay for stuff like that on this corner."

Well.

We said "yes" to that generously offered truck.

And then this morning, my neighbor shows up with my favorite starbucks drink and her work gloves and we go to town on that backyard. Together. Within hours, we've hauled a whole load to the dump and reloaded the truck and trailer. Most of the work was done while my littlest slept and my two older ones were at school.
Loaded up and ready for a second run to the dump
And the bonus to a now-cleaned-up backyard? Getting to enjoy my awesome neighbor's company while doing a job that feels very rewarding.

Were we the only two women at the dump mucking out a trailer? Yep.
Was my minivan the only one there? Of course.
Was my toddler the only baby watching a load of people empty backyard waste into a huge pile and loving every minute of said entertainment? Darn straight he was.

You see, friends, neighbors are pretty awesome. This is the fourth home we've owned. Every time we move, we pray hard, hoping that our new neighbors will be as awesome as our old ones. And each new place, we encounter a totally different set of people who surprise us in new and tremendously beautiful, human ways.

So, here's to my new neighborhood. To their generous and fun-loving spirits. To their smiles and welcomes and trucks and attitude that says "we are family when we live next door."

Richmond, keep up the lovely surprises. Perhaps God was planning some redemption for us here all along.

It really is a beautiful day for a neighbor.

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Good

It's been a long year for our family. A really long year.

A stressful job search and decision, medical issues, an SPD diagnosis, a cross-country move, chronic insomnia for our oldest child, too many goodbyes, loneliness all around.

And now, my oldest son, who has always loved school, always thrived there and looked forward to it, has a rough teacher. I don't mean that she's tough or works them hard. I'd be alright with that. I mean that she's unkind. And grumpy. And sighs a lot. And, according to my son, makes a lot of kids in the class feel very discouraged every day.

And my son. Oh, my son. He is the kind of kid I wish I had been. The kind of kid who wants everyone to be included. Who aches when his friends hurt. Who sheds tears over a friend's parents divorce. Who invites the new kid to play with him. Who always, always, wants everyone around him to be happy.

So when he hears this woman sigh and shake her head as she hands back a bad grade and watches his new friends' shoulders hunch just a little lower, he retreats into sadness. He comes home with a heavy heart. He doesn't want to go back because he hates watching it over and over again.

And my mama heart? Man, it hurts. Hurts for him, hurts for his classmates, hurts that after a long summer of looking forward to school, a place that has always been safe and good and fun and challenging in the best ways possible, is now a place of dread.

But every morning, he gets up. He makes his bed, prepares his breakfast and packs his bag. I walk him halfway down the hill and give him a hug. (And silently rejoice that my almost 10-year-old will still let me hug him in sight of the bus stop.)

And as he walks away, I say "Find the good. Be the good. I love you."

I don't know why I started saying it.

He was really nervous his first few days. He was the new kid. The kid from another state who had never taken Spanish before and had to jump in. The kid who didn't know what SOL's are. The kid who had to look around the lunch room and hope that someone would invite him to sit down.

And those first few days, when he trudged back up the hill and tried, oh he tried, to be brave and tell me that everything was going well, I knew he was saying it for me. I knew he wanted me to be happy, to feel good about this decision we made to take him from all he knew.

But moms know. We just do.

So after a few days, we had to have the talk. The one about being bold and not caring that you are the new kid. About asking to play with the other kids and sitting down at a lunch table with an empty seat and saying hello and hoping they say it back. We talked about finding the good in each day. Finding even one moment where we could see God being God, where we could see kindness or fun or hope. And when we couldn't see it? BEING it. Making it happen. Making someone laugh or smile. Inviting someone that may already have friends to be your friend. Taking risks.

Finding the good. Being the good.

And now, over a month into school, I am so stinkin' proud of that kid because he put himself out there. He has made some good friends at school and in the neighborhood. He has worked hard at his schoolwork during a really transitional year. 4th grade is no joke, friends, and he's nailing it. NAILING it.

He should be able to look forward to school. But he doesn't.

So the conversations over the last few weeks have changed. I know he doesn't have the power to make his teacher smile or stop sighing or act kindly towards his class. When I'm telling him to be the good, I am helping him to find ways to see how she might be in need of encouragement. Make her laugh. Bring her a card or a flower. Something to show he's thinking about her. Praying for her.

Because if there is one thing I've learned about unpleasant people it's that we shouldn't rush to assume that's just who they are. Maybe something is wrong at home. Maybe she is grieving a loss in her life. Maybe she is exhausted and out of hope for our educational system. It could be any number of things.

Or maybe she is just one of those people who don't value kindness and encouragement and should likely not be an elementary school teacher.

I really don't know.

And some of you are thinking "Are you just going to let it go on like this?"

Not on your life.

Will I likely talk to her at some point? You bet.

Do I know yet what to say? Nope.

Am I aware that a number of parents in the class are already struggling with the same thoughts and dealing with their own discouraged kids and have already had conferences. Yep.

But for right now? Today? I am taking to heart what I say to my son every morning. I am trying to find some ways to be the good for her. To encourage her. To go that route first, rather than complaining. To find the things that she does well and thank her for them. To make her feel seen and appreciated.

After all, a little goodness never hurt anyone. Maybe that's what she needs most.