I’ve lived in my house for 14 years, one month and three weeks. That’s the longest I’ve ever lived in any one place – over three times longer in fact.
When I was a child my family moved frequently; by age sixteen I had lived in eight houses in three towns in two countries. My son has lived in three houses in two countries – two of them between birth and age two. He’s sixteen now.
This neighbourhood is a living map of my son’s life. Even the office in which I sit to write this was his bedroom for the first few years. We chose this house – over any of the other 40 or so that we viewed – because it had an enclosed back yard, visible from the kitchen window, where a small boy could play in his sandpit, ride his trike or use the mini-workbench and tools he so loved. The large flat front lawn has been perfect for impromptu games of soccer and rugby with the other children in our neighbourhood.
Because this is a family neighbourhood. The local primary school has educated several generations of locals, there are parks, nature reserves and a thriving PlayCentre community. When we moved in, the first generation of children had grown into teenagers and we endured a few noisy parties before those families began moving out, to be replaced with others in the same stage of the family life-cycle stage as us. Next door, across the road, in the cul de sac opposite – over the years the neighbourhood has filled with children around our son’s age. As I write this, I’m watching a man help his child learn to ride their first bicycle in exactly the place we took the boy-child when he got his first bike.
We live in a cul de sac; at the end of which are a couple of walkways. One leads to the main road, shops and bus stop – the other to another set of cul de sac. This is a village on a tiny peninsula on the edge of a city. Although I can’t see it because of trees and houses, a branch of the upper Waitemata Harbour lies about 500 metres from my house.
Over the years many of the houses in the houses in this street have been bought and sold, and almost all have been extensively renovated – including ours. It’s difficult to remember now, walking to the local store, what places looked like before the extension, re-clad, re-paint or front fence. It’s easier to remember the slow dawdle to pre-school with an inquisitive two-year old in stripey trousers and a little back-pack. I can still feel the ghost of a tiny, soft hand in mine and the echo of a little voice asking questions that always seemed to come out of nowhere and often had me stumped. “When granddad bought his tractor, how did he get it home Mummy?” “What colour are tastebuds?”
Later, when the boy-child went to the local primary school, we took a different route; past the War Memorial Park (which doubled as a soccer training ground). Every day he would walk along the top of the fence and I still instinctively want to reach out and grasp a small hand at the places where the fence rails are wobbly.
These days his urge to balance on a fence-top has been replaced by one to skateboard down the – usually quiet – road. I preferred the old days.
Our village has changed so much in 14 years. The petrol station has gone- demolished along with the old local store to be replaced by a parade of shops and other businesses. The store itself is larger, brighter and has a better layout, but I miss the old days when it seemed as though – come the end of the school day – half the village would cram itself into that tiny, dark Aladdin’s cave to buy the kids an ice-cream and catch up with the neighbours, the soccer mums and that woman from the PTA whose name I could never remember. Playdates were organised, lunches arranged and babysitting arrangements made in the tiny aisle between cat food and toilet cleaner.
In our early days here, I often seemed to find myself half way through cooking dinner when I’d realise I’d run out of something. I’d phone the local shop, and somehow they always had one tin of coconut cream or one bottle of rice vinegar – or whatever it was I needed. I’d arrive a few minutes later to find it waiting for me on the counter.
This year, we have begun to seriously talk of selling the house and leaving the neighbourhood. The boy-child attends school in the city and – despite a brand new skatepark opening in the village – his time is largely spent elsewhere. He will finish school at the end of this year and a new phase of his life will begin.
Houses are being bought and sold again and the neighbours we have been closest to have all moved on. Once again the street is full of strollers, tricycles and kids starting primary school. Ours hasn’t quite turned into the noisy party house, but I can’t help feeling we aren’t far off.
So it is time to go; to seek new parks and pavements and to imprint new memories on new everyday places.
The Daily Post Writing Challenge asked us to look at our neighbourhood with new eyes and for me that has involved re-living so much of my son’s childhood. I didn’t realise how much I would enjoy that.