by Allison Struber, Guest Contributor
This was my moment.
While helping my kids get into their carseats, I noticed my neighbor pulling an empty trash can up to his house. I quickly grabbed the baby and ran down our sidewalk waving my hand.
Thinking about it now, I’m sure I looked like a freak. He stared at me and slowly lifted his hand to return the greeting. I was not about to miss this opportunity, so I yelled
“Hi! I just want to introduce myself. We moved in about a month ago.”
He nodded his head and reluctantly took a step toward me.
“Hi, I’m Bob.”
Out of breath and not knowing what to do, I waved again and said “Well, I hope to see you around!” I really did not want the conversation to end, so then I threw in
“have you lived here long?”
We shared some small talk and went on with our day.
Although it was awkward, I had a starting point to building a community; I had introduced myself to a neighbor.
Each move I am hopeful it won’t take a lot of effort to meet those I share a sidewalk with, but it generally does. My vision of families coming to our door with a plate of homemade cookies and a welcoming smile is, in fact, a dream. I am willing to wake up to reality and turn on my own oven, but I will not let my hope of meeting the neighbors die.
I am not alone. We military spouses know a neighborhood community can be a lifeline. It increases the feeling of safety when a spouse is gone, it provides children more freedom to roam, and it makes a temporary house a home. When building these relationships does not come easy, it helps to start with these 5 tips.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? 5 Tips For Building A Neighborhood Community
Being vulnerable and open to rejection is a dangerous, uncomfortable thing, however, a relationship must start somewhere. If your neighbor is not making the first move, the ball is in your court. It may be the first or the 100th time seeing her/him.
BREAK THE SILENCE and say something as novel as “hello.” If you are desperate, comment on the weather.
Every friendship has some sort of “first date.” Expect the discomfort and get yourself out there!
I am not advocating stalker-type behavior. There is no time for that, however, there are times when meeting a neighbor requires effort to be in the same place at the same time.
Instead of reading on your couch, go on your porch. Park outside instead of in your garage. Allow your kids to play in the front instead of the fenced backyard. Go outside for a walk and, if anything, reap the benefits of fresh air.
Maybe he failed to return your wave hello. Maybe she made a face that offended you. Whatever it was, it is easy to subconsciously think, “they don’t like me.” Once this thought enters in, we begin to convince ourselves it is true by continually looking for evidence to back it up.
Be conscious of your thoughts and recognize you have no idea what is going on in other’s lives. Practice giving the benefit of the doubt and don’t stop waving hello. Maybe today he will have put in his contacts and her migraine will have disappeared.
Be A Good Neighbor
When their garbage can has tipped over, pick it up. If you see their car hatch is left open, knock on their door and let them know. Keep your pets in your yard and do not allow unreasonable decibel levels to come from your area. Little things matter.
It does not guarantee a friendship, but it does make the world a better place.
Community is essential to military life. While we can hope to quickly find it in close proximity to our home, it may take a while. Keep that hope while continuing to develop community in other areas such as military groups, church, school or the fitness center.
I do not expect to be best friends with Bob or any other neighbor, but I am hopeful our relationship will be cordial enough to borrow that egg I need to make myself a plate of homemade cookies.
Allison Struber is a military spouse, mother of three and author of S.T.E.M. Steadily Taking in Each Moment. Inspired by her kid’s energy and her husband’s dry humor, she spends her days volunteering and trying to figure out a ways to bottle up the sweet moments in life.