When I decided to quit my job and become a stay-at-home mom, my time with “grown-ups” decreased significantly. As an extrovert (with limited adult time), I’m always on the lookout for more ways to connect with people.
I’ve always tried to be a good neighbor. I wave hello, make small talk on walks, and keep an eye on the happenings of the neighborhood. But—up until recently—I just haven’t had a special connection with most of my neighbors. With my newfound time at home, I’ve been looking for a neighborhood BFF, and most of the people in my neighborhood are retirees who keep to themselves. So, when I found out we were getting new next-door neighbors, I was filled with hope that another young family with potential playmates for my kids and I would move in.
When the house next door was purchased by a 75-year-old widow, I guiltily felt a twinge of disappointment.
Her moving truck rolled up, and I went by to welcome her to the neighborhood, but I was sure our interactions would stay at the surface—a smile across the yard when taking out the trash or comments about the weather on occasion, at most. But my feisty new companion has proved me wrong and become a real friend, teaching me more than I ever expected. Here are just a few of the ways my life is changing and being challenged because of her.
How to assume the best
While I planned on being friendly with my neighbor, who I’ll call Esther, I never thought we’d be close. But she didn’t give me much of a choice. She invited me into her home almost immediately and soon after that began sharing her life with me and inviting me to share mine. And, as many 75-year-old grandmothers do, she often has strong opinions about things going on in the world—and sometimes in my life. While this may sound intrusive to some, I’ve learned to not let her sometimes-colorful comments bother me.
It’s my conviction that God wants us to care for widows, and in this instance, caring for my next-door neighbor means visiting her, listening to her, and engaging with her. And while her thoughts on child-rearing (“Children definitely should be done breastfeeding by 6 months”) or overbearing questions about my kids’ tantrums (“Why was he crying? Sounds like he didn’t get enough sleep”) could be irritating to some people, I’m actually glad that she cares enough about me to say something. I’ve learned to assume the best about her intentions—I don’t know for sure what she’s really thinking when she offers advice or commentary, but I can easily decide that she probably means well and enjoy the richness of her unexpected friendship nonetheless.
How to cultivate humility
Esther means well, but after the first few times she offered unsolicited advice, I began dismissing most of her comments. But I’m learning to be humble and actually listen to her, as well. For example, she had been telling me for weeks that I needed to take better care of myself, and I brushed her off repeatedly. But then, I got sick three times in a month, and realized she was probably right—I hadn’t been getting enough sleep or eating very well. While not everything she says is right for me, I’ve learned that I do need to hear her out, and sometimes my way isn’t the best way.
How to be brave
Esther’s life as a single, elderly woman totally inspires me. She’s active and engaged in her community, she walks every day and cares for her yard and home, and she does it all with a smile on her face. Sure, she’s shared with me some of her struggles with getting older and how much she misses her husband, but she does it all with courage. She makes me less afraid to get older. Even the simple fact that she reached out to me in an act of friendship and invited me to be a companion of hers—visiting on her back porch or mine while the kids play—was just so brave of her. She gives of herself constantly by allowing me to be a part of her life, finding fun things for my kids to do and sharing who she is and her stories of the past with me. She even lets me help her carry heavy things inside or move things around for her on occasion, which truly has become a pleasure for me to help her in small ways, as her presence in my—and my family’s—life has become a true comfort.
If you would’ve asked me a few years ago who I’d have chosen for my “ideal” neighbor, I probably wouldn’t have asked for a sassy elderly woman with quite a bit of time on her hands, but after constantly learning from her and having the privilege of truly being her friend, I know she and I were put next door to each other for more reasons than we know, and I’m looking forward to continuing to grow with her!
Originally published on July 23, 2018.