I am having a little bit of seller’s remorse. I’m having a little bit of buyer’s

remorse. I know that’s perfectly typical when you sell or buy a house, and I’m
trying to keep that in mind as I navigate these difficult emotions.

At first I was caught up in the excitement of finding our new home, so it wasn’t until I started really working hard to get our current home ready to put on the market that I began feeling a little stressed.

The first issues I had, actually, were panicky feelings about the damage we’ve done to this house over the years. The dinged walls, stains on the carpets, places where the kids took a Sharpie to a cupboard door or a pen to the window casing – those all became magnified in my head and seemed like total deal-breakers. The remembrances of septic tank alarms in the middle of the night and standing water in the backyard after weeks of solid rain – those things seemed insurmountable.

And then the listing agent came through the house with her critical eye and tucked all of my favorite things away.   Down came my electric tea kettle – stashed in the cupboard.  I had to pack the fragile blown Easter eggs the girls made one year in school for fear they would break if I simply put them in a drawer and the agent was certain they ought not to be on display.

“It shouldn’t look like you live here.  It should look like someone lives here – someone generic and random, not you. No personal photos. No personalized towels or jewelry, toothbrushes on the counters or worn blankies on the kids’ beds.”

I feel like I live in a model home. And not in a good way.

One day before the Open House, the agent was here with a rag and some cabinet cleaner wiping down all of my kitchen cabinets and scrubbing the wooden pillars on the deck back to white.  She mopped the dog prints off of the front door and asked if we had any touch-up paint for a few spots where the kids had missed the keyhole in their rush to get inside.

She assured me this is what she does with all of her clients and that I shouldn’t feel bad about her nit-picking.

She told me the house looks beautiful and it will show well.

And still, I feel like I am only visiting this place.  This lovely house that has been my home for over ten years.  This place we moved to before Lola was born. The only house she has ever known.

After a busy weekend of showing the house and nine families coming through for Sunday’s Open House, I collapsed in a lawn chair in the backyard yesterday for a few quiet minutes and looked around.

The beds are full of fresh barkdust – still red and cedar-scented.  The flowers the girls and I planted to add some color are all standing tall in their pots, glorious after a few days of warm sunshine.  The deck and front walk are newly pressure-washed and look lighter and fresher than I’ve ever seen them, and the outdoor kitchen is staged to look like Bubba’s heading around the corner with some thick steaks to lay on the BBQ.  This place is gorgeous. This place is home.

Why am I leaving?

I closed my eyes and picture the new house, warm and inviting with hardwoods and sturdy radiators in every room.  The magnolia tree in the front yard was blooming the last time I was there and sunlight was streaming through the leaded glass windows.

I forced myself to think back to last Thursday night when I had to pick Eve up from cross-country in the rain.  Lola and I reluctantly climbed into the car at 4:15 for the trek across the lake and a few minutes later I realized this was likely to be a long journey.  It took us the full 45 minutes to reach Eve’s school to pick her up at 5:00 and the first thing she said when she got in the car, her ponytail dripping steadily into the hood of her sweatshirt, was, “I’m starving!”

We drove back across the lake in the now-rush-hour traffic in the rain and arrived home after 6:00.

This is why I’m leaving.

The new house is 10 minutes’ drive from the school.  I could have been there and back inside

of a half an hour and Eve could have been warm and dry with her belly full by 6pm. 

But I still asked myself, “Am I doing the right thing?’

Of course it is an entirely moot point at this juncture.  We have bought the other house. Closed the deal.  Shelled out the money and the check has been cashed.

Besides that, it’s not “I,” it’s “we.” Bubba signed those papers, too. He looked at the house and fell in love, too. He agreed that moving across the lake was the right thing to do, too.

But I am still compelled to ask, and so I did.

Fortunately, I was able to recall asking myself the same question when we bought this house. And frequently over the years as we were forced to install an expensive sump pump and repair the septic tank and grieve over cats lost to coyotes who roamed the neighborhood, I had occasion to ask again.

As I sat there in the backyard looking back at the beautiful house we live in, I felt good. Ultimately, questions, concerns and all, we took this place and made it in to a home.  We put our O’Driscoll stamp

on it – expanding the outdoor living areas to fit the way we live and interact with friends and family and using every inch of space to enjoy our lives together.  In the end, I feel good that we will all grieve as we move on, that we are all so attached to this place where Lola took her first steps and Eve taught herself to ride a bike, this home where Bubba and I have played a million games of Scrabble and eaten
some of the most delicious meals of our lives.  We have spent evenings shooting baskets with the girls and wicked winters huddled inside near the fireplace when the power went out. We have cleaned up vomit at midnight and laughed until we nearly peed ourselves here.  We have barbecued with neighbors and walked their children to the bus stop and received dinners made with love when Bubba was recovering from surgery.  The girls have gone from making sandcastles and mud pies in the back yard to skateboarding and painting each other’s nails on the deck.  We came in to this place a family of
three with a cat and are leaving as a family of four with a dog, a cat, two hamsters and a fish, richer for our experiences, older and wiser, and ready to move forward to whatever adventures await us next. 

These thoughts gave me hope that no matter where we end up, we will manage to make a home for ourselves that reflects who we are as a family and as individuals.  And while the stage may be different and we may wish we could take some parts of this place with us, it will be exciting to create new spaces where we can live and laugh and play together.  This house, this home, holds a special place in all of our hearts and it will be hard to not be here anymore. It will be difficult to say good-bye.  But like Bubba says, “Once you’ve made a decision, it’s the right one,” and so we will look forward to making our newhouse in the city a home for us as we feel the bittersweet sadness that comes with saying good-bye to this one.

I have decided that I think Valentine’s Day ought to be bigger than it is. No, I don’t work for Hallmark or Future Florists of America or even Theo Chocolates.

As a kid I loved Valentine’s Day. I can remember hand-picking which store-bought card went to which kid, lamenting over the excessive number of “Be Mine” messages since there were so few boys I wanted to send that particular card to. The construction-paper-decorated shoeboxes and certain knowledge that I would receive more than my fair share of Hershey’s kisses, along with the party that kept us from doing any work all afternoon were indeed something to look forward to.
As a teen, my perspective on this holiday was based on whether or not I was currently dating anyone. If so, I was thrilled to have someone who would “be mine,” and a little nervous about what exactly to give a teenage boy for Valentine’s Day. If I was single, I sought solace in my other single girlfriends and we tried our hardest to avoid looking at the couples exchanging soulful looks and stealing kisses.
As a mother, I questioned the commercialism of the day, especially when the decorations went up on January 1st at our local drugstores. I encouraged the girls to craft their own cards for family members and schoolmates, but we all quickly ran out of patience with the glitter and glue and trying to find unique messages for each recipient.
One year when I just couldn’t get it together to mail Christmas cards out on time, I found a sweet photo of Eve and Lola and ordered Valentine’s cards for all the families on my Christmas card list. I think that was when it occurred to me that I had been limiting my notion of Valentine’s Day unnecessarily.
Then I met Carrie. She is the embodiment of love. She is funny, honest, blunt, open and a true gift in my life. And her birthday is February 14th. And that was my tipping point.
I still craft special sentiments for Bubba and the girls every Valentine’s Day. But I have expanded my celebration of February 14 to include every person in my life that I love. I am embracing Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to stop and recognize how rich and full of love my life actually is. It isn’t about sending cards or gifts to everyone I know, and more about stopping several times throughout the day to think fondly of my friends and family and consciously send love out into the Universe. And that is why I think Valentine’s Day ought to be bigger than it is. What if Valentine’s Day was about love, period? Romantic love, platonic love, love of self, all of it. As far as I’m concerned, that makes it much more important than St. Patrick’s Day. And I’m married to an Irishman…

So Eve says she is “done” with snow. Too bad for her that Mother Nature doesn’t really give a rat’s patootie whether or not she has had enough.

I will say it has been a long go for her at this point, though. Last Friday she left with about sixty of her classmates, teachers and parental chaperones to drive to Mt. Baker for a four day weekend. The plan was to spend most of the first day building snow caves on the mountainside large enough to sleep in that night. The following day was to be spent skiing, snowboarding or snowshoeing. They would eat their meals in the lodge and sleep there for two nights and basically have a blast without their parents. At least the kids whose parents didn’t decide to chaperone. Like me. Sleeping in a snow cave is not my idea of a fun weekend. I’m happy to snowshoe but I would like to come home to my own bed and a hot bath at the end of it. I am too damn old to build my own snow cave, sleep in it, spend an entire day doing physical exercise and still not come home to a massage or a hot shower.
Unfortunately for Eve, the day she came home, it had started to snow here. And by the time she woke up the next morning, I had determined not to send her to school because there was a threat of several more inches. By Tuesday night we had about four inches of snow. Not a ton, but in the Pacific Northwest, with our hills and propensity for freezing temperatures overnight, it renders our cities completely unnavigable. By Wednesday mid-day, we had ten inches of snow and Eve was tired of hanging out with Lola and I. She spent several hours on the phone or video chatting with her best friends, lamenting the fact that their neighborhoods only had two or three inches of snow. Our house exists in this strange microclimate that gets more snow/rain/cold temperatures than the metro areas. Way to live in the suburbs, I know.
Thursday morning I woke up to what I thought was rain falling on the skylights and thought this was it for our snowbound selves. Whew, enough. By the end of the day, we can go back to doing what we normally do and the kids can go to school on Friday. I fell back asleep for an hour. When I awoke at 8:00, I realized I could still hear the sound of ‘rain’ falling, but the skylights weren’t any clearer. That was when I got up and realized the sound was actually ice pellets hitting the snow on the roof. Those continued for about two hours, building up a nice, crunchy layer of ice on top of our now 12 inches of snow.

Since then it has turned to snow and we’ve accumulated another two or so inches. And as much as I’d like to say it is driving me crazy, I can’t. We have plenty of food in the pantry and fridge. The power is still on (for now – there are lots of folks in our area who haven’t had power for eight hours or more). And although the girls are about to skin each other alive, every time I look out the window and see this lovely, fluffy white stuff falling with abandon, softening the edges of everything it comes in contact with and insulating the world from sound, I feel calm. Despite the occasional crack and thunder of a huge tree limb succumbing to the weight of the snow and ice, it is incredibly peaceful. Yesterday I found bear tracks trudging across my front yard. Stepping out on to the deck, the only noise comes from the hungry cries of the stellar jays in the trees. And as soon as I retreat back in to my warm nest, I realize I am safe at home with my girls. I feel cocooned here, knowing that I can’t change what is happening outside and I needn’t even try. The boundaries of my world have shrunk and closed around me like a snug blanket. Everything inside this perimeter is real and important and tangible. Making warm meals. Snuggling with the cat. Playing board games with Lola. Being.

Since coming back home from my in-laws’ as the holiday season winds down, I’ve been feeling a little down. The stress of packing fourteen people (seven adults and seven children) into a small space for a week with dreary, cold weather and lots of opinions on parenting and cooking and politics and everything in-between has caught up with me. We had a lovely time with these amazing individuals, but after a few days of rubbing up against each other, things get a little chafed and it was time to head for home. For a person like me who tends to be very introspective, the tendency to self-judge and second guess becomes overwhelming. Unfortunately, we came home to a very sick hamster (Lola’s) who was valiantly fighting off a bacterial infection and lost the battle yesterday. We are all very sad to lose this adorable, feisty member of the family and, as grief comes in waves, at any time of the day one of us can be found in tears over her loss.

As the sun rose today and I contemplated the gathering we will have tomorrow to welcome the new year, Bubba recognized my mood and strongly encouraged me to head to yoga. I did, and struggled a bit to stay “on my mat” in mind and body during the 90 minutes, but now, 90 minutes after class, I’m feeling somewhat more centered. I gathered the girls at the kitchen table to review our year a bit and was astonished to discover how quickly we amassed a pretty impressive list of things we have done in the past twelve months. In no particular order, here goes:
Eve: successfully learned to manage her 6th grade schedule
survived (and thrived at) her first sleepaway camp
had her first official babysitting job
cooked an entire dinner for the family (with significant help from Lola)
Turned 12
Broke her first bone
Played on her first basketball team and loved it
Did the dinner dishes for an entire month by herself
Went on her first class camping trip
Learned to sail with her classmates
Lola: started skateboarding lessons
survived (and thrived at) her first sleepaway camp
played her first season of lacrosse (and kicked butt)
did all of the laundry for an entire month by herself
cooked an entire dinner for the family with her sister
started a recycling education project in her classroom
lost her last baby tooth
got braces
Both girls: chicken-sat for the neighbors
went to the San Diego Zoo for the first time
visited Joshua Tree National Park for the first time (me, too!)
took paddleboarding lessons (me, too!)
steered a boat in the Pacific Ocean
saw a stingray off the coast of Maui (me, too!)
learned to play beach volleyball in Santa Barbara
kayaked in Lake Wenatchee
I managed to get published on line in BuddhaChick Magazine, created a relationship with BlogHer that increased my readership, took approximately 60 yoga classes, learned to make good gluten-free baguettes, took my first trip with Bubba away from the kids, turned 40 and saw U2 in concert. Bubba’s company grew, he participated in his first camp singalong, he traveled to some new places and made new friends and became more beloved to each and every one of us.
Looking over the list we managed to put together in a few short minutes began restoring my faith in hope. I had Lola grab a fresh sheet of paper so we could scratch out some predictions for 2012 and we were quickly laughing and fantasizing. I’ve decided to leave both lists out so we can add to them throughout the day as inspiration or memory arises. Maybe it was the yoga. Maybe it was finally settling back in at home. Maybe I’m feeling better because the sadness is running its course. I don’t know, but I am happy that the simple act of looking back on our year for a few moments had such a profound effect on my mood.
I am struck by the notion that most of the things on this list were not earth-shattering. Most of them were not things we specifically set out to do. They were simply things that happened in the course of our lives, moving along through space and time the best way we know how, loving each other and sticking to the values we hold most dear. I hope that a year from now I can look back again and be amazed at the adventures each of us have had, together and individually.
Here’s to 2012 and all it brings.

Five days until Christmas day. The kitchen is silent but for the sighs of the dog splayed out on the floor next to me. Eve and Lola are upstairs, straightening up their rooms so that they can find a place for each and every new treasure they receive on Christmas Day. Eve cleans while belting out popular songs with no pretense. Lola stops every few items to crouch on the floor and read a few pages of a Calvin and Hobbes book.

The day outside is grey and misty and I’m determined to avoid the reality of winter in the Northwest by only gazing at the 4×4 photo of Dad sitting on the front porch with the girls as babies, squinting in the sunshine, his freckled legs showing in a rare moment when he wore shorts outside of the gym.
I feel as though I ought to be rushing around completing last-minute tasks, but all but one gift is wrapped and under the tree and I’m not baking any treats this year. We have deliberately scaled back gift-exchanges over the years in deference both to those who have more stuff than they know what to do with as well as those whose needs run to the more serious – like groceries and money to pay the heating bill. We still spoil the children and delight in odd gifts for each other here and there, but I’m thrilled to be part of the older generation now, my true delight in watching the children’s eyes as they rip the glossy paper off of their presents.
More than anything I look forward to the gathering. The unexpected history shared after a few glasses of wine that sets everyone to hysterical laughter. The moment where the youngest child discovers the piano in the living room and the magical sounds it makes. The stolen moments on the couch where I pretend to be asleep and hear philosophical conversations between adolescents. For all of the hoopla around Christmas cookies and intricate wrapping methods and hours spent in the kitchen preparing the roast, I look to the next five days for rest and quiet spaces and spontaneous bursts of joy. For this, I wish Christmas came more than once a year.

Family is such fertile ground. I feel as though, even though the same crops are grown there over and over again, generation by generation, there is enough rotation to keep the soil rich enough to produce hearty stock.

I grew up knowing that my mother’s side of the family was a matriarchy. Yes, there were boys and men, but their numbers were far fewer (and their voices much less boisterous) than the women and girls. I suppose there were times when we females abused our power, but more often we reveled in it – celebrated it. We cooked and laughed and played hard. We spent summers on the beach, kicking up sand and surf, playing volleyball and scraping the tar from the soles of our feet with turpentine-soaked rags. We collapsed in heaps at the end of the day, our bellies full of barbecued chicken and baked beans, and snickered as we listened to the adults pour more wine and raise their voices to be heard over each other.
Returning to this nest for my cousin’s wedding last weekend, I was excited for another generation to experience what I knew as a kid: this family is all about family. Eve and Lola found their second and third cousins and, within minutes were devising games and giggling and chasing each other around the room. Now that my mom and her siblings are the oldest generation, they have slowed down a bit and from time to time they seemed acutely aware of their status as the elders. They have tightened their ranks around each other a little more as the vulnerabilities of age creep in, leaving no doubt that this is one group that will look out for each other.
With all fertile ground, some weeds creep in. There are decades-old hurts that rub like sandpaper on tender flesh and some new issues that require a delicate touch. There are stories that have grown with each re-telling and some of them have thin walls that bulge out like aneurisms ready to burst. On the flight home, I was reading “Waiting for Snow in Heaven” and when I came to the following quote, I had to catch my breath, “Loss and gain are Siamese twins, joined at the heart. So are death and life, hell and paradise.” And so, in this family, on this special occasion when one of us was getting married and the rest were coming together in celebration, we felt the losses as acutely as the love. My grandfather, a larger-than-life personality if there ever was one, was sorely missed, but attached to that sadness (joined at the heart) is the gratitude that comes from being among these people who know us so well and love us anyway.

I wrote once before about the notion that the abrasive nature of emotional pain, while uncomfortable, may be simply a way to open up more space for love and joy. I may decide I like that metaphor better than Carlos Eire’s metaphor of Siamese twins. But for now, I am content to acknowledge that the two are part and parcel of each other and turn my face more toward the light.

I know that I am many things to many people: mother to my daughters, daughter to my mother, sister to my siblings, wife to my dear Bubba…I could go on, but you know the drill. And, I suppose to some extent, I rely on that. I appreciate the ability to use those personality traits that fit best in any given situation in order to accomplish certain tasks, and then change when necessary. But I always assumed that I was only one person to me, and that, even if others saw vastly different sides of my personality, at least I always knew who I was at my core.
I have recently realized, however, that it is possible to really dislike who I am when I am in the company of certain people. And I thought I was done with that. Like most people, I tried out different personas in my teen years; I was a smoker with the rebellious girls, a goody-two-shoes with those who eschewed rebellion for a while, and, depending on the stage or year of high school, I could be known as prudish or outlandishly flirtatious. During those times, I often found myself feeling distinctly uncomfortable in my own skin. Asking hard questions of myself when I was all alone in the dark at night. And actively choosing to change my actions or distance myself from certain people. But as an adult, I thought I had all of that figured out. I was pretty sure I had solidified my personality like that cup of bacon grease that sits out on the counter until mid-afternoon. Not so.
There is a group of people in my life whom I love dearly and with whom I imagine I will be associated for the rest of my life. And I decided that I don’t really like who I am when I am with them. While they don’t call me on it (either because they are lovely, compassionate people or because they don’t know any different), I noticed that I am often whiny or defensive or something-not-quite-me when I hang out with them, and that makes me decidedly uncomfortable.
It turns out that when I first met this particular set of people, I put them all up on some sort of pedestal. Although, at the time, I wouldn’t have been caught dead admitting that, I was certain that they were certain I wasn’t good enough for them. And, truly, we couldn’t have been more different. But I was determined to justify my existence and show them just why they needed me in their lives. And I felt righteous about it. Sometimes. Often I felt judged and that made me angry and all the more determined to show them.
And so I established this pattern of behavior that led to me proving in subtle but varied ways that I am intelligent and witty and caring and good enough. Because if they were going to judge me, I was going to prove that I was worthy of a good verdict. And now, over a decade later, when I know they love me and I love them all for their quirks and imperfections (turns out we started out very different but are really much more alike than we all thought), I am still armoring up with my good enough suit and slathering on my 50 SPF judge-screen before meeting up with them. Once begun, it seems that the habit of being “something special” in their presence is a difficult one to break. Only the motivation is that this armor is beginning to feel more like something I’m using to conceal the authentic me than something I need for protection from these people who may or may not hurt me, but who deserve my trust. And so I have decided that it is time to feel good about who I am all the time, no matter who I am with. I know it won’t be easy, but having left a gathering of us all where I felt as though I worked harder at crafting a persona than I ever did in high school, I felt as though I didn’t know the woman I saw in the mirror and that made me sad.

Two years ago we moved out of the house for a few weeks while my brother-in-law ripped up all of the carpet on the main floor and replaced it with hardwoods. Two children under the age of ten, an 80-pound dog, one cat and two and a half acres had led me to the conclusion that clean-up would be a darn sight easier with hard surfaces. True, the dog hair sashayed in tumbleweeds across the wood floor to settle in the corners, but when the kids slopped chocolate milk over the sides of their cups or flung a handful of rice or pasta to the floor, spot-cleaning was a breeze.

This morning as I dragged my Dyson around by the extension, sucking up fluffs of fur and dust, crumbs and dirt from everyone’s shoes, I ran up against the carpet square in front of the kitchen sink and groaned. The swath of hardwood behind me was clean, suctioned bare by the vacuum, but this rough, nubby throw rug was knotted with black dog hair, stained by food coloring and pasta sauce and food crumbs were pushed down into the texture and weave. Ugh.
It is so much less satisfying to clean the various rugs scattered around the house than it is to simply swoop the vacuum cleaner around the hardwood once a week. To truly get these clean, I am often forced to toss them into the washing machine and confront just how much I miss them when they’re gone. As someone who avoids wearing shoes and socks whenever possible, I have been teased about my odd dance steps across the cold wood floor in search of a soft warm haven by my family members. But the truth is, they prefer them, too. And so does the dog.
The soft fluffy areas are more forgiving when I am standing to do laundry or cook or wash dishes. They are more comfortable on my bare feet when it’s cold and I like to squish my toes down in the fibers and feel the softness brush against the skin between my toes. They are more pliable and just feel good. They do pick up more crumbs and fur and spills and hold on to them longer. They are higher maintenance and won’t last nearly as long as the hardwood floors. But there are more important things than being clean and shiny. So I’ve decided to take down some of my “hardwood” barriers and make a concerted effort to show more of my soft, fluffy side. Maybe people will start doing funny little dance steps in my direction just to experience some of my warmth and accommodation. Maybe I’ll become more attractive to those who are seeking some pliable support. And I’m certain I’ll get a little dirt and muck on me, but maybe someone will spill some good, dark chocolate on me, too. That might be worth it…

Everyone wants a village. In fact, I’m convinced that it takes a village to raise us all – not just our children. When I tell people about the neighborhood I live in, (six houses, fifteen kids, eight dogs, three miles from downtown, neighbors who are willing to wait for your kids at the bus stop if you’re running late…) they turn all shades of envious. We aren’t nosy or in each other’s faces, but we do know that if someone is hurt or sick or in need of a good book to read, there’s always someone willing to share. When Bubba was in the hospital, they brought meals, mowed our 1.5 acre lawn and offered to watch the girls. We carpool from time to time and have communal garage sales and care for each others’ pets when someone is out of town. It rocks. And when Bubba and I discuss moving from time to time, I am struck with worry that I might not find this again.

So when I was listening to an interview with Peter Lovenheim, author of the book pictured above, I was glued to my seat. His book chronicles his own attempt to create a tight-knit, invested community in his own neighborhood and the changes that came about for everyone as a result of it. Later in the conversation, the NPR commentator brought in a social anthropologist (forgive me, I forget his name) who pointed out how American communities have changed over time, citing commutes, distance from family, and dual income households as some of the reasons we have grown distant from our neighbors. Whatever the reasons for this phenomenon, it is clear to me that most Americans want what I have, but not many of us know how to go about getting it. And beyond desire, it is even more clear to me that we all need this kind of connection in our immediate backyards. Who couldn’t raise their families better with support from their neighbors?
One comment made during the program that struck me was regarding women as the social center of the family. The social anthropologist noted that, before women went into the workforce in vast numbers, it was their “job” to connect with neighbors, join the PTA, volunteer for civic organizations and plan social engagements for the family. They were the ones who spent time in the immediate vicinity of the home and had the greatest opportunity to become engaged in the life of their own community. I think that that is still true for most of us. While there are many fathers who volunteer as coaches for their children’s sports teams and who join the PTA, it is the women who tend to find ways to get entire families together to socialize or help one another out. Bubba might initiate an invitation to his co-worker’s spouse, but it is me who puts together an invitation to dinner at our house. It is me who arranges carpools to sports practices and hears about the cancer diagnosis someone’s mother just received. It is the women in our neighborhood who call around and set up meal calendars to help out the family suffering from illness or injury. I might recruit Bubba to help out, but it isn’t in him to organize a community effort like that.
I am not saying this to be disrespectful or disregard men’s efforts in social engagement. I simply know that, if Bubba were in trouble, he would not reach out to another guy for help with meals or carpools or household chores. He might, maybe, possibly ask his mother (who lives 300 miles away), but he wouldn’t think to approach a neighbor. And while he would have no problem helping a neighbor out, he isn’t likely to flat-out ask if one of them needs help. Whatever the reasons, I learned long ago that people are more than happy to help when asked. I used to feel ‘weak’ or ‘pathetic’ when I couldn’t manage my own life every second of every day and it was for that reason that I resisted asking for help. But when I was forced to, I noticed that my neighbors felt better about themselves when they could pitch in. And my kids learned to trust these “strangers” because of their willingness to help out. They also learned to ask if they could help when they saw that someone was in trouble.
It is satisfying to send a check to the Red Cross for relief efforts when some natural disaster happens. But it is so much more rewarding to head over and mow your neighbor’s lawn for them when you know that Dad is away on business for two weeks and Mom has her hands full working 40 hours a week and raising three kids. There is no tax deduction for that, but there is the knowledge that you’ve done something tangible for someone who really needed it and, without keeping score, the next time you could use an extra hand, you know that another neighbor will be there.
Beyond pitching in to help each other out, the trust that is established between neighbors like this leads to fun as well. In the summer, I often look outside to see that an impromptu soccer game has begun on our back lawn and the bucket of sidewalk chalk is splayed across the driveway as a street mural is created throughout the cul-de-sac. On any given summer evening, the girls might be out riding bikes with some of the other kids from the ‘hood and I can bring out a bottle of wine and some extra glasses. The next thing you know, there are a few other parents sharing the lawn with me as we catch up on each other’s lives and watch our kids goof off.
I’m certain that growing up with this village around them will help my girls to feel connected to their wider community and continue to seek this kind of neighborhood throughout their lives. I know that they will think nothing of asking for help when they need it and offering it when they see someone who could use it. Learning so early on that we are stronger together is one of the best things I can teach my kids. Learning to trust others and know that you have a safety net close by is so valuable.

This is the 400-word essay I entered as part of a contest with the prompt “miracles.”

A man who came home from war in Vietnam so scarred that his wife didn’t know him.

A mother of two whose doctor told her that if she got pregnant again, it would kill her.

A baby girl living in an orphanage in Saigon whose best chance for a good life lay in America.

This five pound baby whose identification bracelet is so small it fits my adult-size thumb like a ring, was strapped onto an airplane with some 300 other orphans and nurses to find her way to the promised land. The plane skidded through a rice paddy after taking off and burst into flames as it crashed, but this little fighter managed to survive.

An American businessman who opened his heart and his personal bank account to fly the survivors to the US despite the fact that they didn’t all have homes to go to.

The pilot who knew that his buddy from Vietnam was a good man with a wife who desperately wanted more children. He put in a call for help to see if they might who might agree to foster one of the children.

This is the story of a tiny baby girl, suffering from malnutrition and desperate for a family, who ended up bringing love to my mother, hope to my father that something good could come of the war, and a precious playmate to my brother and me. She has brought laughter, redemption, and a world of acceptance to our family and today she has her own little girl whose wide-eyed wonder at the world brings each one of us joy.