By Jennifer Wallace
I love my neighbourhood. It isn’t perfect by any means. There have been sirens on occasion. There have been events that have left me concerned. Despite these moments, I know that I really do love my neighbourhood. It has lovely established trees. It has houses that have lived. But overall, it is the neighbours that make it where I love raising my kids.
Over ten years ago, I started canvassing for the Canadian Diabetes Association. It is a cause that is near to me as I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes 29 years ago in January. Canvassing is more to me than going door-to-door to raise funds. It is my opportunity to get to know my neighbours. Because it is mid-to late October when I canvas, I am often invited in to warm up. Being invited in to someone’s home is special in my opinion. It is an opening for conversation and trust. I am so grateful to the doors that have been opened to me. I get another opportunity shortly after canvassing to reconnect—at Halloween. The kids are still young enough that we accompany them and again we get to visit and see our neighbours smiling and generous.
It is because of my knowing the faces down the street that a neighbour was able to come to our rescue without my husband or me really knowing it. We were working on our house and I was expecting Isaac. Our renovations had been a neighbourhood topic of conversation as well. I left to go get some pizza for our small crew. My husband and our friend, who is a plumber, were working inside. He had brought his kids and my daughter and her playmate were downstairs playing together, we thought.
Little did I know, that my daughter decided she should come with me. She left the house without anyone’s knowledge and starting walking in the middle of the street to go find me in my car. She made it near to the end of the crescent when my watchful neighbour saw her. She recognized her curly head and knew that it was not okay that this little girl was all alone on the street. She walked her home. When she arrived with my girl, it surprised my husband who did not even know that she had gone. As I pulled into the drive, there was my neighbour from down the street leaving my backyard. “Hello! What brings you here?” I don’t remember if I cried with relief and disbelief or felt sick to my stomach and overjoyed, or all of the above. I still tell my daughter about that day when our neighbour saved her. This woman taught me not to accept something that seems wrong but to act on instinct and check on people.
My neighbour across the street has also taught me how to be a good neighbour. She is a retired teacher who is very active in the community. She has always kept an eye out for our family. She often invites the kids and me over for tea and cookies. She has a reputation for this! My kids know without question now that they are safe at our neighbours’ house. She and her husband are honourary grandparents. They have checked in on our pups and have helped out when we have had an emergency. As a teacher she passed on one of the best teaching ideas that I use and she has become my biggest help in the endeavor: the Mother’s Day Tea.
Every May, I plan a Mother’s Day Tea and it is she who got me started and gave me the first set of teacups. She still is my greatest teacup recruiter/scout. You see, when she explained the idea, she told me that her granddaughter’s class picked out tea cups that their moms would drink from. I assumed that the moms also took these tea cups home. After I proudly told Millie about the first annual Mother’s Day Tea and how overjoyed the moms and kids were about the teacups they took home, Millie’s face dropped. “You mean you gave them all away?!” To this day, four years later, Millie continues to find these teacup treasures for my students and their moms by making requests of friends and acquaintances and going to garage sales. She is a dear ally. She has asked us for the occasional help with computers, which is my husband’s domain, or to just keep a watch. I continue to learn from her and her husband about taking care of others.
Another neighbour down the street, was a primary care giver and a preschool teacher for my son for two years, while I was at work every morning. The kids loved racing towards her home; off my son went to discover, learn and play. I knew the moment I met her that he would be well taken care of—her calm and gentle demeanor puts anyone at ease. How excited I was to know I had such a fabulous resource and support just houses away.
One of my immediate neighbours is also a dear soul. She has literally been through fire and has such a strong and beautiful spirit. Right after the fire, still in the shock of it all, but knowing that everyone was ok, she said simply, “It’s just stuff.” She is a talented photographer and entrepreneur who has gifted us with some treasured photos and sweet treats as well. As her sons grow up and move out and her mom moves in, she continues to do it all with strength and grace. She reminds me to never give up and keep having big dreams.
Another neighbour has been through much. She has had her own health struggles and cares for her son whose health concerns set her on a journey that she never anticipated. She once invited me in and gave me all their Dora books for my girl. After that, she found other ways to bless my family with most of our playground equipment that her son grew out of. She always offers a cheerful smile and greeting whenever I see her. She reminds me that even when we are faced with difficulties and struggles we all have something to offer—be it a kind smile or a generous spirit.
My son also has taught me about being a great neighbour. Last year, he did not have all the writing and printing skills that he now possesses, but he did have plenty of charm and determination. He wanted to have a spontaneous party. He scrawled four invitations and before I knew what was happening, he went out to give them to our neighbours. One neighbour didn’t quite connect what it was about but the others made inquiries. So Isaac planned an impromptu costume party and I was barely made aware. I confirmed with the invited guests that “Yes, my son is having a party and it is a costume party,” and I quickly scrounged up some food and a basket of accessories for costumes, just in case.
Four women came with the biggest smiles. They were dressed up and so tickled by my four-year-old son’s invitation. We had a wonderful time in the sun and in the shade of our apple tree. I still smile thinking about it. I thank my son for reminding me to just ask. He showed me how to just go be a neighbour and invite someone over.
“Who is my neighbour?” Just look out the window. I am so grateful for mine.