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End of an era.

My next-door neighbor just dismantled the trampoline they’ve had in their family’s backyard for nearly a decade. One daughter is in college, and the other will graduate from high school in the spring, so it’s not surprising. And yet, looking into their yard this afternoon, there is something missing from the landscape of our neighborhood, both literally and figuratively.

Our neighbors bought the trampoline for their younger daughter, who at the time loved gymnastics. My kids were still pretty young then, so the appeal of jumping on a brand-new, springy trampoline was strong. Our neighbors gave us permission to use the trampoline whenever we liked — a decision which I think they may have soon regretted, as I think my boys were probably on it more than their own kids.

Michael was a late walker, but loved to sit on the trampoline and bounce around while his brother jumped on it. And Matthew did his first solo back handspring there. They ran around and jumped, even when the black trampoline was fiery hot from the sun, and when the weather was icy and frigid.

But it was so much more than that.

Our youngest neighbor is nearly four years older than Matthew, but when they were younger, they bonded over gymnastics  tricks on the trampoline. As they got older, I’d peek outside and see the two of them sitting on the trampoline with an iPod, talking and bonding over their mutual love of music.

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When we had our annual block party, an adult would usually keep an eye on the kids who went into the back to play on the trampoline. It was never really necessary, because this is where the kids all learned the neighborhood tradition: the big kids take care of the little kids. The biggest kids would always make sure that the littlest kids weren’t getting bounced around more than they wanted to. Kids would help each other on and off the trampoline, and tie their shoes for them when they located them in the big pile and put them back on.

And that rule the kids learned from each other on the trampoline — it extended beyond just the neighborhood kids. I still smile when I think of the time I saw Michael, in first grade, squatting down to tie the shoes of a classmate who came over the play, got off the trampoline, but hadn’t learned to tie his shoes yet.

If a neighborhood kid was walking or riding by on his bike, the bike would often be left on our neighbor’s driveway, and the kid would join whoever was already on the trampoline. Many of the kids in the neighborhood could probably still tell you where I keep the cups in my house that they’d drink water from when they got thirsty. Some kids, including mine, ruined countless pairs of socks trudging through muddy grass after a football that they were playing with on the trampoline, or just because they were too lazy to put their shoes right back on.

RIP, trampoline. Thanks for the bounces, the lessons you taught the kids, and helping to make our neighborhood the great place it is.

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Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

When my husband Dave and I bought our house 15 years ago, we were newlyweds with no kids, and there were just a few things we were looking for – enough room for the two of us and however many kids we ended up with down the road, and a nice town with a good school district.  One of the things we never thought to even consider was who would be living next door, across the street, and nearby.

But as luck would have it, the people living around us have turned out to be just as important as the schools, the town and the structure that we call home.

In the handful of years before and after we bought our house, almost the entire neighborhood turned over, with retirees moving away, and families with young children moving in.  And these families, along with their kids, have become like our family.  Many of the families have older kids who are now in high school and college – and somehow, they are all amazing kids – good students, athletes, and most importantly, nice, respectful young adults, who have been great role models for our own children.

Because these kids are older than mine, I have a fabulous group of  what I call “mom mentors,” who continue to help guide me through today’s complicated world of parenting.  We have summer “happy hours” where the adults gather outside to chat, and the kids run around and play.  The moms have gone away together on weekends, and we have “girls nights out” for dinners – we’ve also done jewelry-making, ceramics painting, and movies.  The guys have gone out to bowl.  We celebrate holidays and milestone birthdays together.

Some of us, including our family, have done construction to add on to our homes, rather than moving, so we can continue to be a part of this extended family.

Many of us have keys to each other’s homes, and pop in to walk or feed dogs when we’re called on (and let in forgetful kids who have locked themselves out).  We’ve cooked for each other when things get busy or tough, gathered mail and newspapers, picked up kids at school, and driven them places they need to be.  When our older son Matthew was hospitalized as a baby, we came home after two sleepless nights to find that a neighbor had closed our windows to the rain, and mowed our lawn.  When I broke my ankle last fall, neighbors cooked for us, drove our kids around, walked our dog, and even drove me 45 minutes to work.

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I feel like what we have is old-fashioned, unique and special in today’s world.  And we’re so lucky to have it.

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