Neighborhood Watch

I love sitting outside when I’m home and the weather permits. In the early morning, I will take my coffee to the patio that faces the east and am often rewarded with a lovely sunrise. It is my favorite time of day because it is quiet and I am alone with my thoughts. Late in the day when the sun has traversed most of the sky and the patio is in the shade, I will take my computer outside and work while the neighborhood walks by.

From my vantage point, I can see every phase of life. The little kids just old enough on a Saturday to run wild without Mom or Dad. Young families with strollers and, more often than not, a dog or two. There’s also the older crowd, the empty nesters whose children are grown. They walk alone or as a couple and are the most likely to wave as they pass. Sometimes they will even stop to chat for a minute or two. There are plenty of joggers and runners and kids on bicycles who fly down the street without a word. The dog walkers come in a variety of styles. Some walk leisurely as they let their dog sniff every tree and mailbox, while others try to keep their pet moving or struggle to keep up with a dog in a hurry to get somewhere.

Sometimes I will leave the comfort of my home and walk the neighborhood. I walk by the houses and can once again see the phases of life. Toys on the porch, pool towels drying on the railing, or multiple bicycles abandoned in the yard suggesting an unplanned playdate. I see the yard signs that mark the passing milestones—Future Maverick, Class of 2023, It’s a Boy. I wave to people sitting on their porches and carefully step around the chalk art that occasionally adorns a sidewalk or driveway.

I’ve been in this neighborhood for many phases of my own life. We moved here when my sons were in preschool. Now the oldest has graduated from college and the younger will finish in less than two years. My sons are on the precipice of independence, and I am pondering my future. The empty nest phase will be next. At some point I’ll become a mother-in-law and then, perhaps, a grandparent. Hopefully, the grandma phase doesn’t come too soon. I feel too young to be a Nana.

Kaylon (left) and Leana (right) shortly after Risa was born in October 1990. Kaylon (left) and Leana (right) shortly after Risa was born in October 1990.

A few months ago, I was sitting on my porch when my phone rang. It was my younger sister calling to tell me she was pregnant. Risa was born when I was 26—which was about three decades ago. Other than sharing a father, we have very little in common. Now we are both parents, and it has brought us close despite our differences. Risa lost her own mother when she was in college, and I’ve become the surrogate for all the questions and the worry that come with pregnancy. The other day when we spoke, she said, “I can’t wait until the baby is born so I can stop worrying.” I had to stifle a laugh. Oh, sweetie, I thought. The worrying has only just begun. You’ll have sleepless nights because you’ll keep checking to see if she is breathing. When she starts school, you’ll worry she’s being bullied or that she’ll struggle in class or get hurt playing soccer. When she starts dating, a whole new world of fears will appear. Instead, I simply said, “Now that you are a mother, you will never not worry, but it’s okay. It’s worth it.”

As we talk, I watch the neighbors walk past and think about Risa’s future. She and her husband, David, will watch their little girl grow. She’ll learn to walk and then to ride a bike. They will console her and bandage her knee when she falls. She’ll start school and have homework, projects, and tests. She’ll play after-school sports and be invited to parties. Risa and David will learn to juggle their jobs, their daughter’s schedule, and everything in between. They will wonder how they will manage, but they will.

Risa, her husband, David, and their new daughter a few hours after she was born. October, 2023. Risa, her husband, David, and their new daughter a few hours after she was born. October, 2023.

I watch life go by as I sit on my patio and reassure my little sister. She says she will stop bothering me after the baby is born, but I hope she doesn’t. Although I am looking forward to the empty nest phase of my own life, I also like the idea of revisiting the childhood years vicariously through Risa’s growing family. I’m not ready for my sons to give me grandchildren, but I’m warming up to the idea of being a surrogate grandma to my sister’s children. Perhaps they’ll call me “Aunt Nana.”

October 2023