Un balle-à-leunettes - a jack-o-lantern

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My family moved into a suburban neighborhood like no other this last year.

It is akin to Wisteria lane on steroids.

Currently there are 49 children on our block.  Our home, a taupe colored shingled Craftsman, sits on the corner with a large wrap around porch and is dead center in the hub of activity.

Summer nights are filled with shrieks and laughter, street barbecues and ditch’em, hide and seek and babies in diapers crawling around on the grass as mommies linger outside to milk in the last rays of light.

Every fantasy I envisioned of a loving community of people doing life together has been more than fulfilled when I look out my window in the morning and see neighbors smiling and waving.

Coming from a cramped condo with three kids, there aren’t enough words to describe this bliss.  Now as Fall approaches, we are being indoctrinated into a new series of neighborhood rituals.

The Halloween decorations are beginning to pop up…pumpkins and spiders, webs and ghouls.  The trees are glowing with orange jack-o-lantern lights and scarecrows smiling at sinister zombies.

Our street is reminiscent of a Normal Rockwell painting juxtaposed with cheap Costco decorations.  It is Americana at it’s finest…awesome and over commercialized.

A few nights ago, I was at home cuddled up on the sofa writing. My older kids and husband were at sports practice,while the baby played at my feet and dismantled the neatly kept playroom, one toy at a time.  Out of the blue, the doorbell rang and I heard leaves crunching, feet running away and heavy breathing.

I nervously peered out the peephole, and saw nothing but ominous darkness. Wisteria lane had become Hysteria Lane in my mind as I conjured up home invasions and kidnappers.  I bolted the door and walked to the window.  Then it rang again, but this time I spied little feet running away and ascertained that it was a small child and probably not a big threat.  I slowly opened the door and looked around.  In front of the doorstep was a big bag filled with goodies.

On the outside of the bag…was the word BOO!

Inside the BOO bag were Halloween crafts, pumpkin decorating tools, outdoor decorations, candy, shoelaces and a letter.  It explained that we needed to display an orange pumpkin cutout that said BOO on our home and within two days repeat this activity to two  neighbors.  If the plan worked, by Halloween our whole neighborhood would be a BOO friendly zone, and every child would share in the excitement.

My kids were so excited when they came home and quickly dug into their booty.  Then we plotted and planned who would be the recipient of our booing.

Choosing which neighbors to BOO was the hard part, but we unanimously decided upon the new family across the street, with two little ones and our neighbor behind us, who is a widowed father. First we assembled the bags.  Dog bones, pretzels, ghost marshmallows, assorted candy and freshly baked cookies for the neighbor behind us.  For the young family we found Halloween cut-outs, plastic spiders, candy, cookies and toy boats handmade for their toddler boy.  We giggled and delighted in our efforts, then headed out the door on a mission to spook our neighbors and bless them.

First, we hit the neighbors with the little kids.  They live in a beautiful yellow clapboard home with a white picket fence and large front yard.  A little red baby swing hangs from the eaves of their porch and toys are scattered askew.

My son slowly opened their front gate, tip-toed up to the door, rang the doorbell and bolted.  The baby and I watched from our front window, while my daughter hid behind a car in their driveway with my son.  The young dad peered out his front door,  but didn’t see anyone. They have a beveled glass top door, so we were fortunate to be able to watch his reactions.

He looked around suspiciously, then slowly opened the door and spied the BOO bag.  He looked around again as my kids, hiding in his driveway stifled guffaws, then picked up the bag and upon realizing it was a surprise, called out for his little boy and they happily tore into the bag.  Mission accomplished!  We tricked them and then treated them…mmmm, I wonder if that’s how it all started?

House number two was a different type of BOO.  Not long before we moved in, our neighbor behind us had lost his wife to cancer.  He was still living in her dream home, a romantic Spanish style abode with a lush yard and arched entryway.  His daughter, a beautiful girl in her mid-twenties, had moved home to help with her mother’s care in the last days.  She is still living with him, and slowly recapturing her spirit after the devastation.  The younger son is in college but also lives at home.  He doesn’t smile much and keeps his distance.  They are fragile, at best, and we desperately wanted to make things better.  So we BOO’d them.  A simple but intentional move to show them we cared.

Our plan was to plant our nine month old baby on the doorstep, armed with a glow stick and the BOO bag.  I hid closely behind the arch as we rang the bell.  But in our sneaky plans, we forgot about their dog.  Bullet, a large Siberian Husky bounded up to the door barking furiously.  In a flash, I grabbed the baby who started crying.  Tim opened the door and there I stood…with a crying baby, a BOO bag, and two older kids yelling at me, “abort, abort.”.

I was a BOO failure!

Then Tim called the dog off and asked me what I was doing.  Before I could say anything, he saw the bag.  “Are you BOOing me?” he asked.

“Yes, but I didn’t do a very good job,” I said.

He didn’t say anything more, took the bag from my hands and slowly shut the door. Just before it closed he looked up at me and smiled.

So , maybe our covert operation was more awkward than finely tuned, but our hearts were full and our souls nourished as we headed home. The BOOing had allowed us, for a moment in time, to be a part of something bigger and to step out of the ordinary and mundane in our lives.  We learned that being a  neighbor isn’t just about living in a neighborhood…it’s about engaging in the stories of humanity. Mr. Rogers put it this way, “If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”

And as I drifted off to sleep that night, a familiar song of childhood came to mind… “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day in the neighborhood.  Won’t you be my neighbor?”

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