Rituals and Journeys

Rock Lake Presbyterian Church’s annual “flowering of the cross” ceremony is held each Easter. My mother started this tradition and this is this year’s cross.

Disclaimer: Is religion wrong? No. That’s not what this post is about. This post is about my journey from Presbyterian believer to atheist. This is my journey and I’m writing about it because there may be another person out there who needs to read this. They may be on a similar journey and they need to know that they aren’t alone. I’m not dissing on religion or God. I’m trying to explain why I have let go of my belief in both.

I very much like rituals. No, I’m not talking about routine or habit (that’s not to say that I don’t enjoy always putting my pants on right leg first then left leg because the other way would just ruin the whole day), I’m talking about ritual.

rit-u-al n 1: the established form esp. for a religious ceremony 2: a system of rites 3: a ceremonial act or action

I grew up in Rock Lake Presbyterian Church and each Sunday, the service followed the same pattern:

Opening Hymn, Call to Worship, Doxology, Prayer of Confession, Bible reading, Gloria Patri, Apostle’s Creed, Sermon, Invitation, Blessing, Hymn, Postlude.

I haven’t stepped foot in my childhood church in decades, but I can still sing the Doxology from memory.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow! Praise Him, all creatures here below! Praise Him above, ye heavenly host! Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost! Amen.

Pretty ironic for an atheist, eh?

I’ll let you all in on a little secret that I haven’t told anyone. You may want to get a little closer to the screen because I’m going to whisper it to you.

During my eighth grade year, when we had to take state-mandated standardized tests, we had to mark our career interests. I put down, “Presbyterian Minister.”

Shocker, right?

When my father went into the hospital in 1981 for a triple-bypass surgery, my love of religious ritual was fractured when I overheard my mother telling a friend that our minister hadn’t visited my father in the hospital because we hadn’t tithed enough money that year. I realized at that moment that for some people, religion wasn’t so much about faith as it was about money and influence and I was determined to not make it about that. I wanted my church to be about God, family, and fellowship, regardless of whether my manse had a hole in the roof or if the church’s stained-glass windows had cracks.

The longer I stayed around religion, though, the more of a bad taste it left in my mouth. I saw people praising God for their raise or their tax return while children were starved or beaten two streets over. I witnessed a friend’s church state that only baptism by immersion could save souls while my church baptized by sprinkling. My Sunday school teacher proclaimed that one uttered cuss word would damn us straight to that fiery place and because of that, I lay awake many nights, terrified that I would spend eternity with the likes of serial killers and rapists because of a misplaced fuck, not to mention the fact that I’d possibly been baptized wrong and couldn’t be saved in the first place.

I slowly, but surely, realized that religion wasn’t always one thing for one person. That it could be grace or fellowship or volunteerism for some, while others used it for money, power, and selfish ego. Yes, I did experience the selfless sacrifice of a few people but overall, I experienced the opposite from many. And never once did I feel God was there directing any of it.

I recall one afternoon in high school, on the school bus, passing my church and wondering, “If I were born in India, I’d be Hindu. Or if I were Japanese, I’d be Shinto and Buddhist. Religion is geographical. It’s a birthright” Well, how could that be right? I knew there were missionaries, but why did there have to be? Why wasn’t everyone already Christian? Why did we have to “sell” it? And weren’t those same Hindus and Buddhists and Shintos convinced they were right? And then it clicked. It wasn’t so much about geography as it was indoctrination, what you’re born into and taught all your life. I was taught to worship God as a Presbyterian because that’s what my parents were taught, and their parents, and their parents, and so on. It wasn’t necessarily right or correct, but it was genealogical.

As an adult, I announced my affiliation with deism, then later agnosticism. But was I really a Deist and then an Agnostic? No. I think it was me, after decades of reading the Bible, being preached to and frightened into belief (or else) that I couldn’t let go of. It was after suffering from infertility that I finally set my belief in any higher power free. So many things were said to me and about me during that period in my life that I could fill a book. (Funny I say that because I’m working on an outline for said book as I type this.) Many of those things were helpful and caring. Some, though, weren’t. A few were callous and hurtful, but the one that absolutely broke my heart was a Bible quote.

Halfway through my fertility treatments, I received an anonymous card in the mail. There was no return address and a generic Atlanta postmark. Inside the innocuous card was handwritten the following:

Psalm 127:3

Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him

I was stunned. There was no signature. I remember shaking from head to foot, unable to process how one Bible verse, so well-placed, could be so utterly hurtful. I cried loud, angry tears and screamed at the ceiling. An hour later, I wiped away the snot and cleaned myself off. I placed the card on the kitchen counter along with the rest of the mail so that Tyler could see it. I wanted him to read it without my influence and when he read it, he agreed with me that because it had been sent anonymously, it had been sent to hurt, not heal. A person who followed God was telling us that for whatever reason, we were unworthy of the gift of children. And no inner voice told me otherwise.

I finally proclaimed my atheism several years later because I hadn’t seen or felt God in my life. Ever. I realized that nowhere in my life did a divine power ever step in and assist. I never felt guided or helped or loved by anything celestial or beyond me. I have always felt alone. There has been no voice or direction, just me and my singular judgement. And the day I came out as an atheist was the day I admitted to myself that I was fine with that, that I accepted that, that it didn’t make me sad or angry. It’s just life. Good or bad, we are responsible for ourselves and our actions.

The guilt I felt for many years was lifted the day I admitted I’m atheist. We are all human, with mistakes and foibles and bad and good, all rolled into these physical forms. We screw up and we triumph every single day. This is humanity. And I refuse to apologize for being human, what religion calls a sinner. I’m not a sinner just because I’m human. That’s wrong. Accepting my humanity with no strings attached? That’s what’s right for me.

Crossroads

Even though I’m 45 years old, I still celebrate “firsts.” I am realizing that you’re never too old to celebrate a “first.” Each birthday is a first time experiencing that age and each time my children do something, that’s the first time I’ve experienced that thing through the eyes of a mother and not a bystander. But, there have been other “firsts,” as well.

At the ripe-old age of 33, Memorial Weekend 2005, I was heavily pregnant with my twins. Even though they weren’t due for another five months (and, in reality, came six weeks earlier than that), I felt the weight of the world on the small of my back. Tyler and I had just spent the weekend, our 10th anniversary, at my mother’s house in West Virginia. This was to be our last weekend there since I was close to the date I would have to stay home and my mother was two months away from moving, permanently, to Georgia.

Our last morning there, I woke up and waddled into the shower. And the reality of leaving this place, my childhood home, hit me. I began to cry. As I stood in that shower, I realized I would never again step foot in this house, that it would only ever exist in my memory, that I would never again be able to just casually walk through the front door and flop myself down on the couch. It wasn’t a great house, mind you. It was tiny and had its problems, but it was the house where I took my first steps, celebrated my birthdays, practiced piano, cried when my parents told me, “NO!” and laughed more often than I can count. The evening after my father’s death, I sat at the table, too tired to eat. I stared at the food in front of me and wondered if I would ever laugh again and I knew if I ate the salad sitting there, I would vomit. And, yet, it was just one day after his funeral that I sat at that same table, with a slice of chocolate cake, a Coke, and my cousin and aunt, laughing so hard over a stupid Trivial Pursuit question that I couldn’t catch my breath. That house saw me through so much and I knew that after this day, it would never again be “my” house.

Tyler and my mother rushed in to see what was wrong. They thought I was hurt or in early labor. “No,” I sobbed, “I’m just crying over a stupid house!”

Thirteen months later, I did step back into my old house. It had been sold and the new owners had redecorated. As I carried Heath, they allowed me inside and I don’t remember too much except that the smell was the same and my bedroom was now an office. Where there now sat a desk, I could still see my hot pink walls and my green shag carpet, my stuffed animals and my white bed. In a daze, I quickly walked through, thanking them profusely and hastily leaving. It was too painful.

Last week, I loaded my children up in our minivan and drove eight hours north to visit my home state. I’ve now lived in Georgia for longer than I ever lived in West Virginia, but I still consider myself more hillbilly than peach. As I drove down those well-worn streets and through the neighborhoods of my youth, not much had changed. The paint is peeling a bit more than before and the streets are bit more bumpy, but it’s nearly identical. And as I pulled up to the intersection of Kentucky Street and Rock Lake Drive, I realized another first. If my life could be summed up in a graph, this house, its address, near this intersection, would be coordinates 0, 0, 0. This was my beginning and my children were seeing it for the first time.

I’m very much a realist. I quite like to slip into my imagination from time to time, but I understand, quite clearly, that my graph will someday have an end set of coordinates. Where those will be, I have no idea. But, I do know that 5312 Kentucky Street, South Charleston, West Virginia, will always be my home, no matter who holds the deed. It’s as much a part of me as my current home. And those memories will live on and can never be taken away. Someday, my children will pull up to this house in Woodstock to show their own children where they grew up. They will cry a few tears of remembrance just as I did last week. Their children will wonder why this house means so much, but they will understand when they take their own children to see where their coordinates began. My children’s firsts fill me with joy and heartache and I hope when they come back to this home of ours on Wellesley Crest Drive, that their memories of it will be as happy as mine are of Kentucky and Rock Lake.

In Mourning

I woke up last Tuesday morning to a quiet home and a dark street. I had to be at the church across the way in one hour to help set up our voting precinct’s polling place. Nine of us would set up the voting and ballot-creating machines and spend the next fourteen-odd hours making sure the registered voters of Rose Creek precinct were able to select their candidates smoothly, quickly, and without conflict or interruption.

You see, I’m a smart bunny. I know what’s up. I know that there’s a good portion of the country who, ideally, would only like white people to vote. Hell, I’m pretty sure those people are also pretty fuckin’ bitter that the suffragettes won the right to vote in 1920. They would rather only white men voted. So, they make it difficult with gerrymandering and voter ID laws and Jim Crow-esque regulations. And those are the same people who swagger into our precinct and loudly proclaim, “IT’S MY SON’S FIRST TIME VOTIN’! HE’S 18! BUT, A’COURSE, HE AIN’T VOTIN’ THE RIGHT WAY!” So, let’s amend this that there’s a demographic who wishes only white, English-speaking men, probably 35 and older, had the right to vote.

Now, I also know there’s also a whole other cross-section of the country who wants EVERYONE to vote. Particularly those who aren’t citizens. Oh, they pay taxes, so they should be able to vote! It doesn’t matter that they come here in a less-than-honest manner, let’s give ’em all voter access! Let ’em vote! No matter that only UK/Commonwealth/Irish citizens can vote in UK elections. No matter that Mexico, France, Poland, Singapore, and Brazil require IDs when voting to establish citizenship. HERE, IN THE STATES, WE LET EVERYONE VOTE!!!

I get all of this. I absorb it. And I know that, as a Georgia poll worker, I have to follow certain regulations and rules. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow anyone to make it difficult for anyone else to vote. And so, I got ready.

But, I didn’t wear the usual red, white, and blue. No, that day, I had a statement to make. I wasn’t allowed to wear an elephant or a donkey, a candidate button or t-shirt, so instead I chose the only thing I could choose.

All. Black.

I donned my uniform of mourning. Black skirt and shirt. Black boots and jacket. When I arrived at the church, I stuck out like a sore thumb. Everyone else was in their festive red, white, and blue, all matchy-matchy with the precinct decor. And there I sat, behind my Express Poll station, in my emo black. I joked to everyone who asked that, with my purple hair, I was the outcast of the group. What I didn’t say was that I was in mourning for my country.

And still am.

I am sad that the only two major candidates our country could offer was a criminal and a sexist, bigoted, racist loudmouth. I am sad that lip service is only given to two candidates at a time. I am sad that moderate candidates are ignored and tossed aside like yesterday’s trash. I am sad that the pervasiveness of racism and sexism in this country is on the rise. I am sad that Democrats look down their noses at the very people they once proclaimed to defend. I am sad that Republican have worked on a policy of obstruction and not on a policy of doing any actual work. I am sad that evangelical Christians have hijacked the Republican party. I am sad that our news media is no journalism and all entertainment, catering to one extreme or the other, and in turn, filling our heads with partisan excess. I am sad that a presidential election is treated as though it were a Super Bowl. I am sad that even in this contentious an election, 50 million American citizens couldn’t find the time, energy, or inspiration to vote. I am sad that social media has allowed us to become armchair activists, giving us license to spread pretentious views that are empty of any substance, yet make us feel like we’ve actually done something.

To say that I went to bed on Tuesday, November 8th pissed at everyone would be an understatement. To say I woke up the next morning pissed and sad? Another understatement. I was so disappointed and crushed and, just, tired. Tired that people still think it’s OK to treat women like pieces of meat especially since their president-elect told them he does it. Tired that people think it’s acceptable to break federal laws and still run for the highest office in the land. Tired that people think #alllivesmatter is an acceptable answer to #blacklivesmatter instead of asking why we have to have that second hashtag in the first place? Tired that people think a wall dividing us is perfectly acceptable, but figuring out a way to give people an opportunity to live and work here legally isn’t. Tired that people think a third party is a waste of a vote, even when that third party has the only rational people on the ticket. Tired that one side is extremely pretentious and unyielding, calling the other “uneducated.” Tired that the other side is extremely rigid, unbending, and unwilling to admit that we. need. to. do. something. for our brothers and sisters of color/other-religions-not-Christianity. Tired that if I walk through Woodstock, Georgia, Bible Belt USA, in an “I’m an Atheist, Ask Me Anything!” t-shirt, that I’ll be more reviled and more distrusted than a convicted felon. Tired that my daughter will have to grow up wary of all men as I did. Tired that the children of my black friends may not live past their 30th birthday because of the violence perpetrated on them by society. My society. Tired that my sons may have to listen to their friends demean a girl simply because she exists.

I’m in mourning. For all of us. For all of our actions and inactions. I’ve decided, right now, that I’m stepping outside my privilege and making sure I’m fully educated. But don’t expect me to live up to anyone’s expectations but my own. I will continue to be a safe harbor for anyone who needs me. I will continue to learn and try my best to understand. I will continue to try and make people laugh. I will continue voting third-party and anti-incumbent in the hopes that my children will one day walk into a polling place and see more than two choices on the ballot. I will continue to teach my children to be good people, who treat everyone equally and with respect, and to not be pretentious asshats.

I. Will. Be. Me.

And I will one day be proud of my country again.

Stopped in My Tracks

img_9370Tyler bought me a monitor for my notebook, so that when I’m sitting at my desk I don’t have to squint.

Some husbands buy flowers, chocolate, and lingerie. Mine buys electronic things. This is one of the many reasons why I picked him. But, I digress.

I set about getting my desk organized with the behemoth which meant I needed to pilfer through the basement detritus for a mouse and keyboard.

(By the way, that’s the other great thing about Tyler. Our basement is like a Circuit City/Best Buy/CompUSA/Apple store all rolled into one room with bunches of cardboard boxes full of cable and cords and keyboards and computer cards and on and on. I’m pretty sure we could cable the neighborhood and take care of their electronic needs for the next year.)

As I walked by a bookcase of old CDs, I found an interesting stack of paper I hadn’t previously seen. I took a closer look and was so overcome I had to set down my electronic treasures. It was a stack of papers that had been saved by my Uncle Curtis, that had probably been in a box, most likely found by Tyler, and set aside for me to peruse.

The stack, a small portion of which is in the picture above, was full of bits of things Uncle Curtis had saved: letters and cards from me, newspaper clippings about me, my research paper, pictures of my father, my honor roll certificates, his Camera Club ribbons, and on and on. It wasn’t like I was excited to read these old letters and newspaper clippings. What touched me and stopped me was that he saved all of this as if he were my parent, which he pretty much was. He was my third parent. He was my way-cool uncle who listened to me, took a huge interest in my life, spoiled me, and held me tight. He was the absolute best uncle a girl could have ever hoped for. My parents were and are awesome, but my Uncle Curtis was something special. When I went through that stack yesterday, I didn’t smile over the memories of writing those cards or receiving those accolades. I smiled and remembered my times with him, those special moments we shared.

One of the items in the stack was a sheet of paper containing my Uncle Romie’s thoughts about his brother Curtis, read at Curtis’s funeral. Some of Uncle Romie’s thoughts about Uncle Curtis included:

When Curtis started grade school, Mom had him ride the garbage truck home (about 2 miles).

Curtis was a very generous person who would give you the shirt off his back.

We lived in Maryland on the Eastern Shore where there are no mountains. One night he looked out the window and became a little disoriented. He said he wondered why the sky was so “low.” Being from West Virginia, he said he was used to looking up to see the sky.

As I look back on Curtis’ life, I see a very generous man who will be missed very much. Our children loved him and will miss one of their favorite uncles.

Uncle Curtis (and Uncle Romie and my father) are missed every day, still, after all of these years. I am thankful for finding that small stack of papers so that he was next to me again, even if only for a little while.

Balancing

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NOT Cooper Gap, but still pretty. Image credit: artageclub.com

As I came upon mile four in my 10k race this weekend, I noticed I was completely on my own. I couldn’t see the runner behind me and the runner ahead had rounded a corner. There seemed to be no one and Cooper Gap Road appeared to stretch upward, forever. This place is a beautiful, quiet stretch of North Georgia country where you always hear water running nearby and you might see a bear, watching the annual race. But for me, it was just an endless stretch of pavement with the wind in the trees, and that double yellow line taunting me.

Since I had the road all to myself, I decided to race right down the middle of it. I shifted from the right to the yellow line and decided that to keep myself occupied, I would use that line like a tightrope, no going left or right. I had to stay right there. I had to balance on the straight and narrow and not fall into the black on either side.

Those last two miles were pretty much a metaphor of my life. There’s this constant balance between motherhood and Heatherhood, responsibility and freedom, work and relaxation. On the days that I get work done and am on top of everything, I feel so powerful, so in-control. On the days when I get nothing done, when I park my butt on the couch and watch TV while the kids are at school, I feel like such an utter failure. For example, I sit here writing this post because I know I need to write more, I enjoy it and need the practice, but I feel guilty that I’m not upstairs folding the bathroom towels that have been sitting in a laundry basket all weekend.

I get it. I’m too hard on myself. I always have been. It’s hard to teach a 44-year-old woman new mental gymnastics. In the last year, thanks to Zoloft, my anxiety and mood-swings are mostly gone and calmed, but I still have a hard time finding that balance and acknowledging that I’m allowed to have balance, that it’s OK to have the busy days and the lazy days, the mom days and the Heather days, the laundry days and the writing days.

While I ran down that double yellow line, I took two miles, about 22 minutes, to think about my life and how there were so many things I wanted to do with so little time to do it all. Life, after all, waits for no one’s Oh, I’ll give it a go tomorrow. Life plods forward, with or without us. I know I need to hit that double yellow line more often than not, but I also know that it’s OK if I veer off to the shoulder to take a pause and a few deep breaths, look up the hill, and plot my next steps.

Because even though life and time both move inexorably forward, I need a shoulder moment every now and then and that double yellow line can wait.

The Blink of an Eye

img_9200I remember lying in my hospital bed, a mother for just seven short hours. My twin babies were in the NICU and I was full of anxiety. I couldn’t sleep, I wanted to see them but wasn’t allowed because of the danger of seizures, I was worried I wouldn’t know how to breastfeed them, and my blood pressure was so high that I was mainlining magnesium sulfate through an IV pump I had affectionately named “George.” The doctor had ordered a “nightcap” for my IV (read: something to finally knock out the psycho mother in room 15) and I was just drifting off to sleep as my breastfeeding consultant walked in the room.

See, I was absolutely freaked that the twins wouldn’t get enough breastmilk. If I gave them a bottle, then I would know how much they drank. The ounces would be clearly marked on the side and with a little simple subtraction, I could know how much they were eating. Breasts, unfortunately, don’t come with those ounce marks. Plus, writing down the amount of poop and pee they created each day just seemed a bit too much like flying by the seat of my pants which, as we all know, I DO NOT DO.

So, there she was, this tired “Breast Milk is Best” advocate who was there to calm me down and give me advice.

In the middle of her instructions, her phone rang. It was her newly-minted 13-year-old daughter who was asking if she could have more minutes on her phone. You see, September 16th was her birthday, too. And she had just received a shiny, new cell phone for that 13th birthday. But, she had used all the monthly minutes to set it up and call all her friends to say, “HEY! CHECK IT OUT! I HAVE A NEW PHONE!”

4961_85634273231_4642627_nEven through my drug-addled, anxiety-ridden, sleepy brain, I could hear the mom’s/breastfeeding nurse’s voice become more terse and frustrated as the conversation went on.

“No. You cannot have more minutes.”

“You’ll get more minutes on October 1st. Those are the rules.”

“It’s not my fault you used up all of September’s minutes in just a matter of hours.”

“You should have paid attention to what you’re doing.”

“I know it’s your birthday, but deal with it.”

When she finally hung up, she apologized, explained what had happened, and as she spoke, gestured to me and the pictures of my new babies, and said, “This? Hon? This is easy. All you have to do is feed them, change their diapers, and love them. When they get to be 13? That’s the hard part. Trust me.”

Of course, I didn’t believe her. I was convinced that trying to guesstimate breastfeeding quantities was going to be the hardest thing I had EVER done in my ENTIRE life. (Postpartum anxiety is a total bitch, yo.)

Eleven years later, and here we are on the cusp of that cell phone moment. There are many days when I can see the beginnings of the teen years with mood swings and attitude. It’s no fun being the mom who takes away the iPad and tells them “NO!” while their tears fall as if it’s the end of the world. I can tell you that even though I know I’m doing the right thing, I still feel like the most awful mom in the world.

Somewhere out there is a 24-year-old woman, celebrating her birthday. She most likely pays for her own phone, and she may have her own children. I doubt she recalls that conversation with her mother, but I remember it as if it were only yesterday. I can remember rolling my eyes and thinking, “The teen years are SO FAR AWAY!”

And yet, they aren’t. They’re staring me in the face. I sometimes wish I could go back to the easy days of baby giggles, diapers, and fuzzy breastmilk consumption math, because she was right, those days were SO much more simple.

But, even though these days are no longer easy, they are certainly more interesting. I’m never bored. I see children who are forming ideas about the world, learning constantly, loving those around them, laughing freely, crying, arguing, questioning, and becoming really cool people. They make me feel more alive and more tired, all at the same time. I know the next eleven years will pass as quickly as these have and before I know it, I’ll have adults in place of the babies I once knew.

And I’ll long for these difficult days of the pre-teen years.

Happy 11th birthday, Amelia and Heath! I love you so very much!

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Digging up Dirt

IMG_7729Spring is my second-favorite time of the year. I’m a fall girl, through and through, but there’s something about spring that’s nice. The green is brand-new, almost neon in its shading. The rain comes and symbolically washes away the grime of winter, while the colors from the myriad of flowers nearly blind me in their intensity. I like to sit on my pollen-laden porch with my afternoon mug of coffee, and think about life. Or read. Or breathe.

As a child and teen, I spent many evenings swinging on our neighbors’, Goldie and Clyde, front porch. The adults would talk and catch up on the day. Clyde would regale us with stories of his time in the Navy during World War II and sometimes, he’d pull out a couple of spoons and play them on his knee. One of my favorite evenings was when he accompanied me as I played my dulcimer. As people walked up and down the street, Goldie would whisper,

Oh, my. There goes soandso. I heard her daddy got arrested last week. Yes, indeed! He was down in Jefferson at one o’ them dancin’ clubs. Got inta a huge fight. Cops came out and had to break it up! It was terrible!

If you wanted to know what was going on on Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana Streets in the greater Spring Hill area, then you parked your carcass on Goldie’s front porch swing. The last time I had the honor of sitting there was summer, 2006. I drove the twins to West Virginia for a visit and never returned. Clyde and Goldie both passed last year.

I always wanted a front porch big enough to accommodate a swing, chairs, and enough people to keep the conversation flowing. I am nosy by nature, but that’s because of my father’s influence. As a police patrolman, he taught me to be aware of my surroundings, so I liked hiding in the tree in our front yard and watching the comings and goings of the people living around us. Tyler and I had nothing but a concrete footing at the front door of our first house in Cumming and, until 10 years ago, had just a brick stoop here in Woodstock. After we added a porch cover and I could leave the kids in the house to their own devices, I started sitting outside more and more. Many times, they join me with their homework or books. And we’ll sit and listen and breathe. We’ll watch the neighbors come and go and talk about the birdsong, their days, their friends.

Unlike my time in West Virginia, I’ve grown more and more introverted. I have my friends, but I’m most content when it’s quiet and I’m alone. I seek out my friendships when I need to reconnect and recharge. The rest of the time, I read, think, write, and so on. If it weren’t for our kids, I wouldn’t know anyone in this neighborhood. Luckily, the parents of the children our kids play with are all awesome people. And they get me. But we don’t socialize with anyone else. From what I can tell, from where I sit on my front porch, and from the furtive whispers I hear when I’m out and about, I’m glad we aren’t “out and about.” Because the gossip is rampant. And it’s causing one of my friends to move away.

Tyler and I bought this house 16 years ago because it was a steal and it’s located in a great school district. What I’ve learned over the last 10 years, since entering the local school system, is that many residents of this area think rather highly of themselves. So highly, in fact, that they will put aside their own failings to cast aspersions upon others. I used to feel guilty for not socializing at neighborhood functions or school carnivals. But now? I’m glad I don’t. I’m happy I only know seven families out of the 168 in this neighborhood. I’m proud to say that I rarely make conversation with the other parents in my childrens’ classrooms. I’m thrilled that my brick stoop is the home of quiet contemplation and reflection and not gossip and wasteful talk. To see one of those seven so hurt that they feel they have to move to an entirely different neighborhood is uncalled for.

Tyler and I decided 16 years ago that this would be the home where we raise our family. And once they grow up and start lives of their own, we will say goodbye to this place and find our home that will give us solace in our golden years. And I hope, on that future day, when I lock this front door for the last time, that the neighbors will ask one another Who lived there? I’m not sure. They were there for a long time. But I didn’t know them. And that will be for the best.