|our last summer|
One of the biggest considerations when we were deciding whether or not to move to the cornfield was leaving our neighbourhood. We lived in a neighbourhood that had been built for soldiers returning from WWII, but was really established by hardworking immigrants and blue-collar families that moved in more than 60 years ago. There were plenty of good schools, neighbourhood parks, community meeting areas, shops and restaurants, yet was laughably lauded, year after year, as an ‘up and coming Toronto neighbourhood.’ What that meant, of course, was that the nearest Starbucks was two subway stops away, and that you could still purchase a house in the area for under half a million dollars.
We lived across the street from the elementary school, 30 houses away from the library, the civic centre, and the summer farmers’ market, and two blocks away from the not-quite-gentrified major street, subway, another farmers’ market, splash pad, and another playground. If we couldn’t walk to anything else we needed, we could certainly bike there.
But what became the biggest draw of our neighbourhood, and so, the biggest consideration when we were talking about leaving, was the people. After seven years in our house, we knew every neighbour on our street. We ran into school-friends and their parents everywhere we went. The shopkeepers knew my kids by name. I had a wonderful group of friends whose children mine had spent all of their years so far, with. In other words, we had a community.
It was hard to leave, and for nine months now, we have been slowly wading into the waters of this new town, searching any and everywhere for signs that we belong here. I scan the faces of the parents and children in the schoolyard so that, should we run into them at the park or the movies, we have someone to say hello to.
We have been moving back into a circle of friends that my husband left almost 15 years ago, a circle that has grown and changed; whose dynamics I never knew and must now become familiar with. We rely on the friendship and assurances of relatives most of the time, who take our hand and urge us forward, assuring us that the waters are calm, and kind.
If there is an event in town, we attend. If there is a field trip for the class, I volunteer. Small talk comes easily for me, and at the first sign of openness in a common setting, I engage with strangers. I try to put aside all of my insecurities surrounding being the new girl, try to be myself without tapping into what may be seen as big city bravado. Try not to be condescending enough to think that it even exists.
My children have been begging us to go back to Toronto for a visit, to go back to ‘the park,’ the one that they had spent nearly half of their life in. And I know what they are really asking for – for the familiar; for a place where they can go to run around with kids they know, to feel known and safe and to be part of the landscape they always felt was home.
I had been feeling terribly guilty for taking my children away from that: away from a place where the adults stand in a group, chatting, laughing and craning their necks to see if the child that just tumbled was theirs. A place where the kids gather and disperse according to whatever game they have devised; a place where cold drinks and kisses are doled out when needed; a place where childhood memories are indelibly formed, then recalled annually, in growing turbidity, for the rest of their lives.
And then, this weekend.
|being fancy on the front lawn|
Unremarkable in so many ways, yet a turning point in our journey towards belonging in this new place.
First, a birthday party for our newly-minted seven year old, attended by all who had been invited. Despite my fears that nobody would show up – they didn’t know us, how could they trust their child with us, maybe birthday parties weren’t the norm here – a house full of happy girls took up most of the afternoon.
Then, a brief respite before heading off to a barbeque, where we knew almost everybody, but nowhere near as well as they knew each other. It didn’t take long to relax and enjoy ourselves, thanks as much to the flow of conversation as to the flow of beer.
But the kids.
The kids, a dozen or so of them, almost all the same age, running and laughing and gathering and dispersing as they devised new games, running back to their parents for cold drinks and kisses as needed. And my girls, so happy to be surrounded by this group of children, in a big backyard full of the things that kids need to be happy – that is, a slide to climb on, a tree to hide behind and a friend to chase after. And the parents, in a group, drink in hand, chatting and laughing and craning our necks to see if the child that had just taken a tumble was ours.
Once the sun had descended, the sparklers were lit; little kids were steered away from the faces of others, little fingers were inevitably blistered. And once the sparklers had had all burnt down, we gathered our kids and our lawn chairs and walked through backyards down to a clearing by the creek, where it took six of the men to set up the fireworks and start the show. All the while my big city sensibilities were drumming through my body and I truly had to work to resist the urge to shout, ‘Wait! Stop! Isn’t there a bylaw against this sort of thing!’
And the kids fell fast asleep in the car on the way home, and Chris and I talked about what a great evening it had been, how close to his own memories of childhood this day had become, and how good it was for the kids to have been able to run around with other kids, happy and familiar and feeling secure, knowing intrinsically that they were part of a community.