For the past five years until nine months ago, when my beautiful neighbors moved four hours away, this is what happened.
Every day on my way to my day job, I would walk past my neighbors’ house while the two children and one or both of their parents were having breakfast in their dining room. I’m not sure how it started, but it became a game: I would do something silly outside their window, like throw snow or my hat up in the air, dance, do whatever crossed my mind to make them laugh and smile and give me a little joy to start my day. Then, when I came home, I would see them, and knowing that life is short, I would not hesitate to play with them if it were summer time or give them a hug or chase them (kids love to be chased) or play tag or play games that Kai, the five-year-old, usually made up.
I have felt so grateful that their parents could share them and not be afraid that they could love another adult, one not related by blood. I think this culture has a lot to learn about dealing with insecurities and not feeling threatened or jealous in all of our loves and friendships.
Have I told you I don’t do anything typical? I don’t think of family, parenting, children or any way of my being in a typical way. Since the parents were so loving and open to me and not threatened that their children loved me, I took the time to be there and help if they asked. Even if they did not ask, if I saw the children in the backyard on the weekend, I would run over there and let the parents do something else while I played with them.
I love both of the children very much, and Ruby June, who is two and a half, and I have a very special connection. I swear I was waiting for her before she was born. I tell people that I think she and I knew each other in a past life. She would say “my Susan,” and I would reassure her that I will always be hers. Right before they moved, she would want me to do everything—change her diaper (if she had one on) or give her a bath at bedtime. She asked one Saturday to come to my house and eat lunch and take a nap. The mother told me no one could get Ruby to nap so easily—not Grandma, Dad or her. Ruby and I would go to the nearby park and take our time coming home, talking about all we were seeing as we walked home (or I carried her and whatever she chose to bring with us to the park).
I used to joke that I wanted to marry the family—the entire family—and I don’t mean that in any sexual way. Have I told you I don’t do anything in a typical way? I do it in the way that feels best and most authentic to me. Loving those children and that family feels really right to me.
There was a time in my life I thought I was not capable of love and that I would only feel hate. So it is actually very beautiful that I will love and risk losing and do it again and again in each moment. I would never undo or change what I had with those little ones.
I joked with one person at my day job (when she was having a hard day) that maybe if she played Ring Around the Rosy every day the way I did, she would have a better time at work.
I miss the daily presence of those two children very much.
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