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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Neighborly Loveliness

Greetings, Potlucky Types!

I'll explain that reference in a minute. First, excerpt from an e-mail from my mother via an Internet cafe in Croatia, in my response to my earlier message about looking for a certain kind of futon. This sort of thing makes me laugh, so I thought I'd share it. Starts off sounding fairly normal, but then...

Hi Monica,

I have seen that futon on Craigs list, so check there. Alwazs a pain to trz to transport stuff but sometimes price good, as zou know. Bz the waz, the z kez is where y kez should be, so starting now let;s saz that whenever zou see the letter z it is probablz a y. And the y kez is where the z should be. Also, ć is where apostrophe kez should be, so if zou see ć it is probablz an apostrophe. LetĆs see if zou can read this now. Ićm tired of trzing to delete and tzpe over all mz mistakes on this Croation kezboard. Saz hi to Kevin and pet Teebow for me.

Love, Mom

That's it. That's all I get to hear about their 3-week European sojourn so far, the only imagining I'm blessed with: that of clunkity-old Croatian keyboards with letters in all the wrong places. It was enough to elicit a Sunday morning chuckle.

* * *

Now onto the serious stuff! Time to straighten up in your chairs and fold your hands solemnly in your laps, boys and girls. Let's talk about neighborly love!

These past few weeks, or maybe months, or maybe years, I've found myself feeling oddly disconnected to the world. Lots and lots of people in my life, new friends and projects and acquaintences filtering in, yet this increasing feeling of being over-stretched, under-supported, perpetually stressed out. It's hard to explain what it IS exactly, this sort of overfull and unpleasant sensation. It comes from...not sure...being busy and tired almost constantly? Making social plans to the point where there simply isn't any time left to just chill? Making too many personal connections, yet not devoting enough energy to maintain any of them in a quality way?

It's an odd and counter-intuitive thing to feel, especially considering the proliferation of blogs and Facebook and e-mail and what-nots, all of which - I thought - were supposed to make us feel more connected, not less. Right? I mean, isn't that why so many of us, in this day and age, gravitate toward these social tools? In terms of this blog and the millions of others like it out there, isn't finding connection with other humans who "get it" the whole point, whether that "it" is KuKd or infertility or any other particular experience?

So, if that's the case, then why is it that the more time I spend on these things, the more out of my mind I sometimes feel?

I don't have any hardcore proof, which is to say I've not gone to the library to look up "maternal grieving traditions" or anything. Nonetheless, I've got these storybook images flitting through my mind about how women dealt with the death of a child, born or unborn, back before all these electronic social interfaces existed, back when the only way to connect with humans was to physically go over to someone's house. Or write them a letter, I guess. Or run into them at the general store or the bakery.

In my storybook image of history, I picture a whole bunch of women coming together in their pleated skirts and bonnets - whatever Little-House-On-The-Prairie-esque clothing women wore back in the day - and just being this tight-knit wall of support. Older women, younger women, all gathering around the poor girl who lost the child, bringing her fresh baked bread and tea, distracting her, talking to her, all of them sitting around and talking and crying.

I picture the pastor of the local church (a cute, white-clapboard church with a perfect little steeple) collecting a bunch of extra money in the donations box and ordering flowers for her. Maybe sending a gaggle of church ladies over to help do the laundry or sing her some church hymns. I picture all of the neighbors showing up to bring her some homemade...I don't know...corn fritters or apple pie or something. I picture the grocer giving her a free chicken or a box of cookies as a sign of sympathy.

Now, that big, unified wave of community support isn't something I ever got, or - to be honest - consciously even wanted, I don't think, during my darkest KuKd days. It isn't that Kev and I were short on friends and family, short on phone calls and flowers and cards. We got those. I just didn't feel, really at any point, this whole connected sense of the community - the world around me - really knowing what to do with me, what to do with the death of an unborn and unseen baby.

People didn't seem to know intuitively how to come together and form a wall of support, the way I would have expected it - maybe - back in the olden days. Everything felt like a game of connect-the-dots. A friend here, a friend there, a smattering of visits, an awkward bit of discourse, a random casserole appearing on the doorstep. Some friends had the intuition to throw themselves in my direction. Others groped around for words, stumbling and not knowing how to act. I myself felt uncomfortable with visitors, preferring at times to retreat like a hermit crab and watch movies with Kevin.

Fragmented grieving culture: that's what I called it.

* * *

Fast forward to now.

Tonight I had one of those experiences that sticks with you and makes you think. I'm still thinking about it now. Nothing exciting in and of itself, just an ordinary potluck at the house of our neighbors Josh and Jessica, an annual thing designated specifically for the residents of this block and our immediate vicinity. It's the first time we've attended. Loads of homemade food and about fifteen people milling about the foliage-filled backyard among tiki torches and clinking beer bottles. Kind of a mixed crowd - crunchy, long-haired younger types; a couple of lesbians alternately sitting on each others' laps; a handful of old-timers who've grown up on this street.

Now, Josh and Jessica are two of the nicest people you could meet. You know those people who are so damned nice, so open and warm and friendly, that they make you feel like an asshole just for being you and not them? Like, those people who say hello from the beginning and talk to you as though you're old friends, without judgement or suspicious looks, without shyness or awkwardness or selfishness? Josh and Jessica are those people, and have been for a long time. I so often wish I were one of those gems of a human being, that I were really that kind and selflessly, effervescently wonderful.

Being around them, their happy loving aura, was just soothing. But what's more, we got to meet - not just meet, but have lengthy conversation with - even MORE neighbors! Imagine that! Actually having more than just a cursory exchange of "good mornings" with the people who live on our block, more than a mere FB status swap, a one-sentence e-mail! Let's see. We only bought this house...oh...two-and-a-half years ago. One would think we'd have the balls, the social grace, the whatever it takes, to actually go outside and connect with the people who live a mere stones throw from any given direction from our house.

I like to blame my anti-social behavior on the stillbirth. Check out how well it fits: when we bought the house, I was preggers. Big belly, neighbors waving and asking when the baby was due. No time to socialize when you've got a baby on the way! So much pre-baby Googlinating to do!

Then, suddenly no more belly, but no baby in sight. And - just a few weeks later - boom! A puppy! I really didn't feel like going around and explaining what had happened, that no, I'd not just given birth to a dog, and that no, I'd not sold my baby into the child slavery trade in exchange for a gourmet poodle mix. Normally that would be the job of "that friend" or "that neighbor" - the one who knows you well enough to be the purveyor of such information to others on the street. The problem was, I didn't have a "that friend" or "that neighbor" on the block, someone who I could count on to spread the word to the others.

But there's the real truth, of course, which is...who has time to talk to the neighbors when I'm so busy futzing around on the computer? Editing a manuscript that I'm deadly sick of? Talking to my dog? Being busy? Overscheduling myself? Nobody has time to..say...sit on the old couple's porch with them across the way and sip lemon tea. Nope, nope, nope.

So, back to tonight's potluck. There were neigbhors there, old and young, and we talked. FINALLY, we just talked - about what it used to be like on the block, about stories, about ailments, about kids and family, about the rats that like to run along everyone's fences at night around here. We talked about the sink hole that supposedly exists in the middle of our street (who knew!), about what it was like before the freeway was built, about the lake that used to sit where the mall is now. We talked about little stuff and big stuff - us and all these neighbors. The old folks said to us, "so nice to meet you, another nice young couple on the block!"

I was beaming, and felt full of good food, and full of good old-fashioned human connectedness.

And I knew, suddenly, that had these people been my friends back in the midst of my sudden KuKd awfulness, that these old ladies and young'uns alike - Josh and Jessica and everyone else there - would have come together to be like this old-school wall of support, had things been different. Which is, had I been more open to letting them into our twisted lives. Had I known them for longer, and not had my face in the computer all these years. It made me kinda sad, nostaglic for someting, I'm not sure what. Maybe for a bygone era, a time when people came together more naturally and felt more connected. Or mabye we never really did? Maybe I'm just imagining it after watching too many romantic movies? Maybe humans are secretly anti-social creatures, all of us?

* * *

That's all - no big moral of the story here. Just that this potluck made me really happy, and reminded me to go over to sip lemon tea on Mike and Claudia's porch from time to time, even though it's easier to nestle into the futon and gobble up people's Facebook status-bytes. Or, go over to the other neighbors' yard to pet their pygmy goats (which I had no idea existed). In the end, it's these lovely old people - and all those gems of friends and neighbors and family members who I perpetually take for granted - who matter most when the shit hits the fan.

(OH, and by the way. I started writing earlier about that inhaled "hee-yoop" sound, which - yes - IS indeed a sucking sound, as identified correctly by several astute readers. Contrary to all logic, it is NOT intended to sound like an airplane toilet, although I can see why you might think that, given its close proximity to toilet-related musings in one post. And in fact, it kind of does sound like a toilet! It could be any sucking sound, really. I do have a specific thing in mind, however, which I'll divulge later. This neighborly loveliness thought-fest was just clawing to get out!


Michelle said...

That was nice to get together with your neighbors. We talk to our one neighbors next door about once a week we will sit on their porch or ours and get caught up. They are older but they are the nicest people in the world. While we were gone camping they .got up on a ladder and fixed the eaves that were getting ready to fall off our house. I love that. But I do not really talk to anyone else. Everyone in my neighborhood is older. One block over is all kids.

Sometimes I wish that I would talk to more people. In fact the other day I was thinking of how different it is now then even when I was a kid. My parents knew EVERYONE on the block. They went out and did things. All the kids played together. I just never really see that anymore. I do believe it has a lot to do with the computer. It gives everyone the false sense that they are more connected so then we really don't have to go out and talk to someone IRL.

angie said...

Last Halloween, we brought our firepit and the grill to the front of our house, and bought some hot dogs, veggie burgers, and chips and salsa, beer and hot cider and had a sort of impromptu get together. People would walk by, and we would invite them for some hot cider, and salsa. For weeks, the neighbors talked about how great it was, how we have to do it again. When Lucy died, one couple brought us food. It was the older couple down the street who happened by with their dog, and told us about the block twenty years ago. We hadn't met them before Halloween, two months before Lucy died. No moral there either, just think the real life connections are wonderful, even though my sort of introverted nature falls into virtual world more readily and easily that I care to admit.

BTW, your mom's email is priceless. It reminded me of that Monty Python sketch of the guy who can't pronounce "C".

Isla's Mommy said...

Thank your mom for me for the chuckle!

I wanted to post about our block party, which was the weekend before last, but just never got around to it. We also bought our house when I had a big pregnant belly and were also "too busy" to get to know many people before Isla's death. We did get to know "that neighbour" though. Sally. She's sweet, but quirky, in her mid-50s and single, and she heads up the neighbourhood watch. A job which she takes very seriously and uses as an excuse to know everyone's business. Thanks to my parents arriving 20 minutes before we did on the day we took possession, she knew all about Tim and I, and the baby on the way, before even meeting us. On the day Isla was born, to spare us the akward stares and questions, my parents sought her out and told her the news, knowing it would make its way around the block. The day we arrived home from the hospital, Sally was at the door with a hydrangea from all the neighbours, and we received several cards from other neighbours.

Even though many of our neighbours came out of their way to extend their condolences, following Isla's death, we continued to keep to ourselves, until last weekend. The block party was actually the first big group social event I have participated in since Isla's death, and I was anxiety ridden before hand and very hesistant to go. But you know what, I had great time. My neighbours are fantastic! I was able to discuss Isla with several of them, and they were so supportive and kind. It was wonderful to actually feel that "neighbourly love".

Our street, located out of downtown but still in the city, is an eclectic mix of empty nesters from the baby boom era, couples who are in their 40s with adolescents and teenagers, a few other younger couples with toddlers and pre-schoolers, three gay couples without children, and of course, Sally. Not quite the picture of "Leave it to Beaver" suburbia, yet, everyone knows one another and everyone helps each other out. It's so wonderful, that while we intially bought our 2bdrm as a starter home, I think renovations and rather than resale are in our future.

So, I guess there is a really no point to this comment, other than I'm glad I reached out and made those human connections too. I think they are still so very important in this age of technology.

aliza said...

the neighbors on either side of us have been so amazing. they brought us food, cards, etc. but the rest of the block we don't know. we had other friends bring meals, little gifts appeared at our door. but still i stayed inside not wanting to talk or face the nightmare and the tears with too many.

these days i'm feeling mixed about community. i'm actually feeling stifled by it. and wanting to be more and more anonymous. but perhaps that's because i have too much of it...

so glad you got to have real connections with your neighbors.

Hope's Mama said...

We only had to tell one set of neigbours (our closest) our news before it spread like wildfire. But that was ok. We wanted that. I hated having to tell anybody. Everyone in the street knew I was preg. Our street is a mixture of old people and young couples. And everyone is perfectly lovely. I walked up and down the street twice a day, to and from the train station each day to get to and from work. I couldn't (and didn't) walk along my street for months after she died but cards did pour in (as well as a few lasagnas) from many. And, as it turned out, once we did venture out and talk to a few of them, we realised we were not alone. Just two doors down, another babyloss couple. Much, much older than us (now with grandchildren of their own) but they too lost a daughter and in the August. So I have been able to share tales of heartache and loss with that particular mama and know I'm not alone.
This is a great reminder to turn this god damned machine off and get outside and TALK to people. We probably all need to do more of it!

KuKd Chick said...

Hope's Mama, it IS amazing what commonalities (did I make that word up??) you can uncover just by talking to the neighbors - stillbirth/miscarriage isn't talked about among the old folks, ya know?'

Angie -that is SUCH a cool idea! Holy cow, that's awesome - I think we'll try that.

Anonymous said...

a timely post for me...just found out my SIL's neighbor had a miscarriage and a D&C. my SIL is pregnant, almost the same due date. I feel so bad for her neighbor. I asked SIL if I should do something and she said "no, she's fine." but that's a big fat lie. no one who wants, tries for, and loses a baby is "fine." so i'm going over thursday, casserole and cookies in's the only thing i can do. i don't know if it will do any good, but i want her to know i care and i'm here to listen, although i don't know her well. i wish she had a wall of support but apparently all her friends think she's "fine." pray for me to bring the wall all by myself!

Karen said...

I wonder, too. I've met so many older women who've shared their own stories of loss and there is an instant understanding or bond there with other babyloss mummas of any age. My own Grandma checks in on me from time to time and talks of her baby Dan, who lived just 18 days before pneumonia took him. Have you read The Birth House by Ami McKay? The characters in her book help each other through birth, death, infertility, and life as women and have "tea with mitts." That's what I'd love to have with all of you, a nice "knitting circle" away from the menfolk and some tea with mitts.

Pamela said...

Great post. Thanks, I needed to hear what you're saying...