July 9, 2015 6:00 am New Neighbors
Dara and Dave Thompson had moved out of New York a month ago and settled in Lakewood, Connecticut with their children, Davey, 4, Teddy, 2 and Eva, four months. Dara wrote for a parenting magazine, now on a very reduced schedule. Dave worked for a small investment firm, which had just moved to Lakewood. Their new neighbors were considerably older and not really used to having young people on their street.
Mary, recently widowed, a retired nursery school teacher, lived right next door. Mary especially loved the sounds of the busy and happy children. As Davey and Teddy rode little bikes or pulled a wagon, Mary listened to their songs and knew she was going to really like her new neighbors. Their house had been empty and quiet for over a year.
Mary ‘s garden was overgrown and wild. She had promised herself she would tackle the arduous task of reclaiming her beloved perennials. This small jungle was quite close to where the children were drawing with chalk on their driveway.
“Hi Mary. I like your hair.”
“Davey, hi. You do?” Mary was surprised and had no clue she had weeds in her hair.
“Oh yes. It is like a big bird’s nest.”
Teddy toddled over, and burst out laughing. “You look funny, Mary. Nice funny.”
“Boys, I love having you next door. I can’t wait to look at my new hair do. Maybe you can see if your mother will let you have some milk and cookies while I take a peek at it.”
“Really?” Davey ran to find his mother nursing Eva on the porch.
“Mary, me come too?”
“Of course Teddy if it’s fine with your mom.”
“Mommy, Mary invited us over for milk and cookies. Please can we go?”
“That sounds nice,” Dara said, touching Davey’s hot little hand. “Please thank Mary a lot and tell her she’s a real love.”
Davey ran back. “Mommy said okay!”
Putting the last bunch of weeds in her basket, Mary told the boys, “That’s it for today. Let’s go in for those cookies.”
Davey and Teddy walked with her. “Mommy said, Mary you’re a real love.”
Mary smiled as she dumped weeds in her compost pile, put down her blue gloves and basket, and washed her hands. Davey and Teddy watched every move she made.
“That’s nature’s garbage can, right?” Davey had heard his father say that.
“Yes, dear, exactly. Next year these weeds and other things we put into the compost will have turned into dirt to help feed new plants.”
“Almost like a healthy blanket that gives them snacks?”
“Davey, that’s just right. Speaking of snacks, how about the cookies and milk?”
As they walked up the broad wooden steps, Mary felt that something wonderful had been added to her life, something that she hadn’t even known she was missing.
Mary opened the green screen door for her little guests. In the hall she glanced in the mirror and laughed. “A bird’s nest is exactly right. I look frightful.”
The boys smiled and Davey said, “We like it.”
Mary put out a variety of small glasses and asked the boys to choose which ones they’d like their milk in.
“Me have Teddy one? Cause me am Teddy.”
Davey chose one with a picture of a duck.
Sitting at the kitchen table, Mary asked about their lives in New York.
“I liked it but you weren’t there, Mary. I like my new house. My old room was tiny and Teddy slept with me sometimes. Mommy and Daddy slept next to us and when Eva was born she slept with them. Now we have our own rooms. When we wake up by ourselves, if we want to find each other and get in bed together in the morning, we can. Mommy and Daddy think we sleep better alone.”
“Me like to sleep with Davey,” Teddy chimed in.
“It sounds to me as if you know just what you like and just what you need to be very happy. It is great that you tell your mother and father how you feel and they listen to you.” Mary stood up. “Let me wrap up some cookies for you to take home.”
“Do we have to go?”
“Why don’t we see what your mother thinks. I bet she’d love to have you back.”
The boys carefully carried the foil package of cookies together and walked speedily back to their porch. “Mommy, look cookies for us for later!”
“Thank you, Mary. This was a perfect time.”
“For me too. I hope the boys will come back soon.”
“Now?” Davey asked hopefully.
“Boys, very soon,” Dara said, softly.
Mary patted the boys, and said, “What fun it is to have such nice neighbors.”
“Mary, we’re the lucky ones. Thanks so much for the cookies.”
Walking back through the hedge Mary turned and waved. “Thank you too.”
Inside, Mary saw the children’s cookie crumbs and thought of the unexpected, unplanned happy time. She washed and rinsed the duck and teddy bear glasses, knowing they would be in use again soon. As she made a simple dinner for herself, Mary thought about the way so many lovely times just create themselves, and so often at the hands of very young children. She had always found their openness so touching.
Mary was happy to have lost the quiet of the last year. She looked forward to having the happy voices of children in her life again.
Written by: Anne Martine Cook, Managing Partner & Mom, with 35+ years experience teaching nursery school children.
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