Yesterday our neighbours came over to say goodbye. They’re moving to their own house after renting the place with the enviable backyard since before we moved in. I remember our first chat over the fence with the neighbouring two year old showing us his dance moves on the picnic table and the older boy telling long stories about pre-lockdown trips to the beach and the sheep clock he has in his room. Lotus, all cheeks and six months old, looked on with wonder – we hadn’t met many new people in her life.
She was just starting to get mobile. Figuring out her own way to crawl about the house we had moved to during lockdown from a small windowless square of life: couch, baby mat, bassinet, repeat. Everything was shutting down, but our world was opening up to a much bigger house with doors that swing out onto a deck and a tree-framed garden below.
As restricted weeks and months went on, we would rush to the fence when we saw our neighbours playing in their back garden or hanging out the laundry. Standing on tippy-toes and holding Lotus aloft was how we often had our only live conversation for the week.
After a while, we started seeing them in the driveway, in the street, organising times to walk with them or inviting them into our front yard when we were allowed. A family from parents’ group live a few houses down next to the laneway and their little one is now Lotus’ best friend. Lockdown walks and front yard plays cemented that friendship as we would often walk past hoping to see them and stand at the gate to chat. The little ones learnt to play together, learnt to talk and tell stories to each other. Their hugs on greeting or departure are emphatic collisions of joy.
We’ve learnt the routines of our street’s dog walkers and exercisers. There was worry when one neighbour’s elderly dad stopped walking past (he moved to a retirement home) and excitement when a pram full of toddler moved in across the road. There’s a couple whose names we still don’t know, but we quickly learnt their boisterous dogs are Louie and Boyboy.
Having to stay close in our neighbourhood, ironically, kept us going. People in our street and the streets nearby have given Lotus toys and books. We have found cake on our doorstep, collected oranges and lemons from outside people’s houses, gathered herbs, feijoas and guavas from the food forest and communal spaces. I built a street library to share books and give something back to the community that has been so generous to us. Although we missed our dear friends and family during lockdown, we are so grateful to have built new connections and friendships.
Now that things are open, we bump into our street friends less frequently. We can go to the zoo, the city, friends in other suburbs, so there’s less need to hang hopefully around the front gate or laneway.
Apart from our (now ex) neighbours visiting – Lotus no longer amazed to see other people, but excited and chatty, showing them how she decorated the Christmas tree and saying “it’s a bit sad” when they asked about our New Zealand trip – yesterday was a lockdown throwback day. Lotus and I walked to a cafe with our keep-cups then played at one of our favourite playgrounds. I had never noticed playgrounds before lockdown, but as they were one of the few things open for so many months, we have become experts in which is best on which sort of day.
In the afternoon, we walked along our street, Lotus carrying her unicorn and giraffe under one arm to show (but not to touch, we’re still learning to share) her friend and when they weren’t in their front yard we walked down the laneway, now overgrown with green, until they heard us and came out to play.
Summer’s here and already we have had adventures, weekends away and invited as many people as we could think of to our house. But some days call for the simplicity of a walk down your own street, revisiting the things that, for us, made isolation a time of community.