No Charge for Being Neighborly

Since I’m not particularly up on the latest news, and since I haven’t regularly read The Wall Street Journal since my first semester in college (The front page was so easy to read in lectures with all the little boxes of information.), I just came across this year-old article about neighbors charging for services: Yes I’m Home.  No, I Can’t Pick Up Your Child.  Despite its age, it’s relevant, especially in a town like Montclair where so many people work from home or are able (or need to) have one parent home with children.  It mentions at-home folks getting taken advantage of by commuters.  But do neighbors really ask each other to go grocery shopping for them?  I can see a neighbor asking if I’ll be around for a delivery.  But if someone is taking advantage, a “Sorry, I can’t” should suffice.  Most people know that at-home doesn’t mean feet up on the coffee table watching courtroom reality shows, right?  Just like most people know that working in an office doesn’t mean checking Facebook and surfing the internet and commenting on websites all day, right?

I’ve found that the give and take of suburban neighbors is an excellent way to prove that people are basically good.  I mean, check out these flowers that a neighbor gave us as a Thank You.  I have no idea what they were thanking us for.  Did they get us confused with someone else down the street?  Are they thanking us for finally putting some flowers out in front of our house?  Either way, we get to benefit from their thankfulness.  They also thanked us with pie when I watched their daughter who was home from school with a cold.  Mmmmm.  Flowers and pie.  Neighbors are good.  

When I moved to Brooklyn in 1994, my first place was in the “no garden in front” section of Carroll Gardens.  Having spent the previous seven years in Upstate New York, and having grown up in a small suburban town, I was pollyannaish in my anticipation of meeting my new neighbors.  The building had eight apartments, and once we were moved in, I decided to meet my neighbors.  I started on the fourth floor, and it only took knocking on three doors with a “Hi!  I just moved in on the first floor!” to realize this “just wasn’t done.”  Renting does not always instill a sense of investment in neighbors.  And families of five don’t want to invite you in to their one-bedroom apartment.  Especially the 20-something couple on the first floor.*

So anyway, now I’m back to living in suburbia, and it’s mostly different.  I don’t think my neighbors would let me climb over their fence to break into my house and then just watch.*  They’d want to – need to – help.  In fact, I’m sure they wouldn’t let me break an unpolished nail on the task at all.  However, had I bothered to knock on the 30-odd houses on my street to introduce myself, I would probably have been met with some perplexed “Is she high?” looks.

Still, neighbors can be pretty amazing.  At four in the morning, when I had to drive my husband to the emergency room, I only hesitated for two seconds before calling our neighbor across the street to please come stay at our house with the sleeping kids.  And when we needed advice about the lawn or which tree service to call, we knew that our other neighbor would give us good information (partly because the tree bordered his lawn!).  And when we were away during one of the major snowfalls in January, our neighbors cleared the sidewalk and our walkway for us.  Then we did the same a couple of weeks later.  Nice, right?

Just this weekend, I locked my keys in the trunk at Costco, and a neighbor lent us his car so my husband could come pick me up.  (I’m hoping my husband doesn’t use that incident as an excuse to get a second car.)  We dropped off a bottle of wine with them as thanks – you see, they were hosting a work gathering when I called.  And they were still just wonderful about being interrupted.  Perhaps it was because they could show the Big City guests the quirky charm of the suburban experience?

In a time when fewer and fewer people live close to family, it’s good to know that favors can be asked and given without anything expected in return.  Gestures like wine, flowers, and pie are wonderful and delicious, but they are the bonuses to the security of knowing that the people around us have our backs.

*That was different, by the way, when I moved closer to work and closer to affordable rents in Gravesend, Brooklyn.  There, the neighbors come to you.  And they want to know everything about you.  It came in really handy when I locked myself out and I had to climb over a neighbor’s fence and pry open my window and stuff myself through said window.  The ever-larger audience made it super fun!


About That Unique* Weblog

Adjusting to car culture, dealing with leaving a career I loved, and spouting off along the way. Do The Most Good.
This entry was posted in People are Good, random observation, Suburban Life and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to No Charge for Being Neighborly

  1. Nice article. I could not believe it when we moved in, our neighbor’s 11-year old daughter brought us cookies. Could not believe that it really happens.

  2. Yes! I had two -TWO – neighbors bring us treats when we moved in. Brownies and chocolate chip cookies. The post was getting too sappy to shovel that on too. I’m actually looking forward to new people moving onto the block so I can be “the neighbor who brought stuff when we moved in.”

  3. commutefromhell says:

    Everytime someone comes to my house for the first time, they always say that my neighborhood is one that they picture when they think of “a real American suburb”. I think my white picket fence contributes to that but I’d like to think that my neighbors also make it feel like that.

    I appreciated my neighbor’s snowblower this past winter (and showed him with a gas card), and my elderly neighbor appreciated us shoveling her sidewalk for her (and showed us with a cake!). And yes, everytime a new neighbor moves in, warm brownies are delivered! I still believe in “real American neighborhoods”!

  4. georgettegilmore says:

    Great post Kristin. I’m still learning to be more neighborly. Growing up in apartments in Jersey City, you sort of kept to yourself. True when I was young, all the kids would play on the street and parents would keep an eye out for us, but it had a totally different feel than in the suberbs.

    We bought our first home 1 1/2 ago and I still haven’t met all my neighbors. We didn’t go around introducing ourselves and they never welcomed us to the block. We have become friends with our neighbors on each side of us, which is nice. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t kind of like the friendly, but private feel of our block. I wouldn’t like living on one of those big “Block party” blocks.

    • I totally agree. I’m way too much of a scorpio and too shy to desire the “drop in whenever you like” sort of neighborhood. One of the draws of our house (we bought about 18 months ago also) was that it’s a side street, and therefore the neighbors are true “walk across each other’s lawns” neighbors.

      When it comes to kids, that is definitely one of the cementing factors. The neighbors that appear in at least half of the post’s examples have a son the same age as our son. It makes all the difference. That and dogs – and this block has a lot of dogs!

  5. i didnt read the entirety of the article you linked to, but i feel like as a sahm (who also is a wahm) i am one of those people completely fed-up with the assumption i am here to do anything and everything for other moms from school. i have a ton of examples of neighbors being kind to me, and i to them, and those requests are all fine with me. but some of the mom ones? oy. i pretty much quit doing anything nice after the time a mom asked me (when i had a newborn, and she knew this) to watch her daughter who went to pre-k with my daughter after school b/c she had an emergency – i said yes, of course, and then when she came to pick-up her daughter in her tennis outfit the emergency turned out to be that her tennis game time had been changed. but i guess one apple shouldn’t ruin the bunch, but i definitely don’t jump to help others like i used to, and that is really too bad.

    • You are exactly the type of person the article was talking about (x2).
      What a gross example of taking advantage of someone else – I love tennis and all, but whaaaaa? I can’t imagine doing that to someone. Did she at least take your daughter for a few afternoons to give you some extra “newborn” time?

  6. Sounds like you have some really nice neighbors. On my block we’re a bit spread out and people seem to keep to themselves somewhat. Nice and all, but there’s not a lot of helping/sharing going on. Kinda wish there was.

  7. jenniferdorr says:

    You describe suburban NJ with the fresh lens of a tourist! Love it!
    As a stay-at-home mom who is also trying to get a business going, I get lots of invites to volunteer for community and school projects.(I get fewer requests for personal favors). I am busy morning to night, mostly with mommy stuff, and it’s always uncomfortable to say no. I feel like there is this expectation that I have the time and space in my life, when I can barely get my teeth brushed. Must set boundaries!

    • And (almost) even more important: Must make time to brush teeth – and sometimes floss.

      I love that you call it “invites.” Kind of like an “invite” from Vito Corleone?

  8. jenniferdorr says:

    Precisely. . .but the threat is social death. No, just joking, my neighbors are amazing – incredibly socially and politically active, which is kind of why I moved here.

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