Sunday, August 25, 2013

State of the Hood - Year in Review (Vol. 2)

A little over one year ago, we were obsessively driving from our old digs to our new town to check the progress on our home. I cringe now to think of the money we spent on gas, but what can we say? It was exciting.

It all seemed so abstract back then. We'd traipse around on particle-board flooring and I would try to imagine the future. I'll be sleeping in this in this kitchen... It was surreal, close enough to reach out and touch but so far away that it felt like a story I was reading, not a life I would soon be living.

Finally, we moved. The house was new but we stayed mostly the same. It was comforting. It was also a bit of a let-down.

Slowly, though, we were moved. Without much warning, feeling finally home but still shifting in our seats, our hearts steadied to the tune of mariachi music and freight trains.

We began to learn the routes, to memorize them, daydream them. We found ourselves saying that one day we'd see the faces behind the walls.

Maybe that's when we knew we'd found home.

I've talked about the bad news. That was easier than this. It's tricky to pin down the upshots. There's too much room for error. I don't trust my memory enough to do it all justice.

So lets just say these are neighborhood highlights. Inconclusive. Abridged by way of a flighty girl who pines for good but no doubt misses plenty.

* It turns out, there's plenty of pretty in the city. I used to worry about this and it feels pretty silly now. Flowers still bloom here and the light still catches the air in a way that makes me want to kiss it. There is beauty to be found everywhere, every single day, and it waits for me. So the girl who used to swoon at hay bales and picket fences now hits the brakes for a graffiti-covered retaining wall. She cocks her head and feels the underlying loveliness of a crumbling bungalow. And yeah, she still stops for flowers and all-things-farmy, because some things just weren't meant to be re-wired.

* We took part in neighborhood clean-up day, neighborhood Help-A-House, and the legendary funky-junk neighborhood pride parade. All of these moments and hundreds of tinier ones made us laugh at the way God flings us about without warning, changing parts of us at His whims, making us, at turns, unrecognizable to ourselves (in the very best ways). We always missed this sort of thing when we lived on our farm. We just didn't know it.

* We got to know our smallish and mid-sized neighbors. Teenagers started knocking on our doors mostly around the dinner-hour. We shared fried chicken, baked Christmas cookies and strawberry cakes. Most recently, Harmonica (as Ruby still sometimes calls her on accident) burst into our front door on a Saturday morning without knocking bellowing a much-too-loud, Boo! (We're working on boundaries. It often feels like an uphill ride.) Belinda rushed in announcing straight A's on her report card (this is highly suspicious and we didn't ask for proof - we just doled out high fives and applauded her enthusiasm.) Smaller people circled around our kids and on days like today, they roller-skate, mix potions, construct elaborate schemes and generally play together outside like a pack of little bosses, dripping in sweat, running in for quick drinks of water, too busy for lunch. Let's just say I love it.

 * We got to know our us-sized neighbors. Some of them. Not enough of them. But we've made friends for life,  we've forged connections that feel like miracles. We all take them at face value, knowing it was just what we needed. When April screams at me from half a block away, "Hey! I quit smoking cigarettes!" I feel honored to be the one on the receiving end. When Nancy with the owl-hat walks by every day at noon, I'm thankful. I feel better knowing she's here. (I'm slow in bravery when it comes to traversing a substantial language barrier that exists between myself and many of my neighbors. I'm dying to resurrect my latent EspaƱol.) 

* Chamberlain Elementary is the bomb, okay? We cannot be swayed in this opinion. Every morning I drop my biggers off at the door, where the Principal stands, greeting each child by name. Every afternoon, same routine. Because our school is overwhelmingly populated by families living in poverty, lunch is free for everyone, along with school supplies and even breakfast, if you want it. I'm not gonna lie, it's a perk. They serve "Fresh Snack" three times per week. When you walk into the office you're greeted by friendly faces and a gigantic poster, "A Child is Not a Test Score". These teachers fight for these kids, many of whom enter school without being fluent in English. They are tough and kind. Before year's end I helped with countless PTO Popcorn Days and we had 2 Chamberlain Champs under our roof. Ruby pronounces "Saul" like "Sow-Ool" and they classify the Jose's by last initial. This school is beautifully diverse and my kids don't even notice. That, my friends, is perfection to me. It's what I always hoped for.

* Our block is making a come-back. I mean, they planted some trees! That was a great day. Said trees are barely taller than us, but it doesn't stop us from parking our plastic lawn chairs curb-side in their wee patches of shade to read our books or watch the kids play.

*The two neighboring abandoned homes I had grown to love? Gone. Replaced by a vast stretch of grass and two apple trees with the branches almost touching the ground. (Totally asking if we can pick. Produce is a terrible thing to waste!)

* We found a church we love, one that shares our heart and soul, if not our age-bracket. (Age is so overrated.) We found people who embrace us like family. They bake us casseroles when I jet off to Ethiopia and offer to watch the Silanator. They are our people.

* Cory started working full-time at the County jail as the Chaplain. To say we never saw this one coming is the understatement of the millennium. It is a perfect fit. It turns out money is also overrated when sized up against having all we need. This was a no-brainer and we're thankful every day for the opportunity. (Check this article out. And this one for a little back-story.)

I'm sure I'm missing lots of Goodness, but you see what I mean, right? It has been a great year.

{At the airport, kids + Mommy.}

 {At the airport. Kids + The Beard.}

Our family has grown closer as we've learned to share more. This love, it is always multiplied, never divided. There's enough for us and there is no them.

Oh, one more good thing that's happened this year?

This guy is home.

He's been here for over a week.
I'll have plenty more to say about it, but for now? Just know that it's so good.