I met up with an old friend the other day. She lives in Ontario, but her father and step mother live on Vancouver Island, so she and I got together for lunch while she was passing through Vancouver on her way to the ferry.
“I’m trying to remember when we met,” she said.
I couldn’t remember either. I don’t remember a time when she wasn’t in my life.
We lived down the road from each other, on different streets but only a two minute walk away, when I was a young girl in Ontario. I’m pretty sure I was playing in her bedroom and she was swimming in my pool when we were three and four years old.
I remember the names of her Siamese cats and I remember the crisp, British voice of her live-in grandmother. I remember playing in her back yard and sharing popsicles on my back deck.
We haven’t lived in the same city, or even the same province, since we were nine years old.
We aren’t particularly close nowadays. We don’t call each other for a chat and we don’t know the intimate details of each other’s personal lives. But we send Christmas cards, and get together whenever we find ourselves in the same city. She visted me in Nova Scotia when we were teenagers, and again when we were in University. She came to my wedding.
She’s my friend, one of only two people from that time in my life with whom I am still in touch.
I had other neighbourhood friends. The boy next door, Joey, into whose house I often burst without knocking. Colleen, who was my bike riding buddy. I have lost touch with them, but they fill my childhood memories of hot summer days, trick or treating at Halloween, and building snowmen in winter.
It’s funny how you make your own community when you live in a big city. A small city block becomes its own small town. These neighbourhood friends were not my only friends, but they were special because they were also my community.
Now Owl is getting old enough to be able to run and play outside without my direct supervision. Our housing complex is made of clusters of townhouses, doors facing each other, with green quads in between. They make perfect meeting places where children can play and neighbours can talk.
We are lucky to have several fantastic neighbours, and even luckier that the family directly across the quad from us has two small boys right around Owl’s age. One of them is 5 months older, and the other is less than a year younger.
Not only can we swap babysitting, but our boys are starting to realize that they have ready-made playmates living just steps away.
“Owl! You’re my friend, Owl!” is a constant refrain whenever Owl is outside and the neighbour boys spot him through the window, and if Owl hears their voices outside he drops what he is doing, tugs on his shoes and runs outside to greet them.
Sometimes they play tag outside. Sometimes they crash into our house and sometimes they barge into the other house. They fight and make up, run and shout. Screen doors bang and small childish voices fill the air, and I am just so, so, grateful.
I’m grateful that these boys provide distraction for Owl, whose constant need to interact sucks me and even my doting mother in law dry by the end of the day. Heck, by the middle of the day. Okay, by mid morning.
I’m grateful that they are good kids from a loving family, and they don’t fill Owl’s head with corporate characters or guns or gender stereotypes. If anything, they run around in Ramones tee shirts and have little familiarity with many of the things Owl brings home from the kids in his daycare.
I’m grateful because there is something inexplicably peaceful about sitting on one’s stoop at eight in the morning, sipping a Diet Pepsi (normal people can replace that with the word “coffee”), nursing my baby and listening to the joyful shouts of small children.
But most of all, I’m grateful that Owl has neighbourhood friends. Maybe they’ll still be in touch 30 years from now. Maybe they won’t be close. Maybe they won’t even live in the same provinces.
But I like to hope that if one of them is in town, Owl will meet them for a lunch and a drink, and they can sit back, and talk about old times.
Maybe Owl will say, “hey, remember my bouncy castle?”
Maybe they’ll say, “hey, remember going out on our Dad’s boat?”
Maybe they’ll ask each other “when did we meet?” and then realize that they have known each other since birth, that their parents witnessed each other’s pregnancies, and that they are part of each other’s life stories.
In the meantime, I’m enjoying the peace.