The neighbors are installing solar panels. I’ve never really noticed their house before, and we’ve never spoken. But we’re as linked as ever suburban neighbors who’ve never met can be. And I’m not happy with our relationship right now.
They had their baby about a year after we moved in, when my boys were sometimes kind and sometimes dreadful to each other. I’d listen to them coo at their newborn out in their yard, which adjoins our backyard, and they’d hear me try and try and try and sometimes lose my temper with my sweet children.
They brought their infant to play in the yard every morning at 5am, and celebrated his every milestone as their dog ran ’round them yapping joyfully.
If my kids weren’t up and terrorizing the neighborhood early I would have been angry at their timing. As it was, their baby’s outdoor shrieks of joy often woke me only moments before my youngest started his morning shrieking at his brother.
My boys liked, on weekends, to climb our tree so they could watch the baby on his little slide. I always explained about privacy and spying and politeness. None of my pseudo-adult lectures ever got a laugh from the neighbors. They pretended we weren’t there.
The baby wasn’t in the yard after 6am on weekdays. I’m guessing from the gorgeous kitchen renovation, from the new solar panels, from the complete lack of baby sound from 6am to 6 pm that the baby went somewhere while Mom and Dad went to work.
I hadn’t thought about it, really. But I am now. Today I saw the panel installation by accident, while I was quickly changing clothes to take the kids to school. It was the first time anyone had ever had a sightline into my room, and I thought about roofs and gutters and home ownership and losing our shirts selling our home to move up here in 2008 and not wanting to buy in 2012 because our marriage was a mess.
And tonight as I thought these things, I saw the neighbors—actually saw their faces—for the first time. They’re adorable. Everything about them and their house is just right. So I watched, from my darkened room, as the couple made dinner. I watched because they must know something I don’t. If they look just right and decorate just right and cook just right, they must have all the answers. And that somehow makes it okay to spy? Don’t interrupt my story.
Gorgeous kitchen. Caribbean blue walls. Flawless pots and pans hanging above a butcher block table. Working together. Each of them occupied by a task: him stirring something hot on the stove. Her chopping and adding to his concoction. Smiling. Working in concert. Probably composting, donating to charities, decluttering, supporting causes, and refraining from all manner of judgment and coarse language. She likely doesn’t binge on to-do lists, and he probably asks her about her day. I’ll bet they have no problems with dandruff or weight fluctuations, and I’ll bet their kid will never get lice. Or a C.
Jealousy wrapped around me and started to feast on my insecurities.
Between us, aside from millions of miles of choices and regrets and difference was the lovely deck I’ve rarely used. Sometimes the boys and I stand out there with a sky map trying to pick out the planets from the stars. Occasionally Peanut lurks out there during a water balloon fight to pelt his foes down below, and I’d drag him back in, giggling maniacally.
But I don’t go on the deck to read in the warm fall evenings, nor to entertain in the summer, nor to contemplate the meaning of life in winter.
I use the pieces of my life in utilitarian ways. I forget about poetry even though I’m often absorbing the details round me.
But tonight I’m hiding in the dark, assuming that other people have better lives. That money and love and a different career would solve my problems.
Wait. What problems?
I have a healthy and happy family. My kids fight. Big deal. My marriage is over. Big deal. We aren’t refugees, we made rent this month, and we see our extended family often.
I have a career. It’s shifting now, sure, and it’s not what I planned. I’m not enjoying consulting as I once did. Big deal. Plenty of opportunities to change jobs. Plenty of for-good clients who need my skills.
I live in a gorgeous, enthralling, expensive city. It’s beautiful and captivating. And I’ll find a way to afford it on my own. Or we can move. Big deal.
Jealousy is wretched. Because it’s often based in appearance not reality. I have no idea what the neighbors’ relationship is like. I have no idea whether their work-life balance is good or if they inherited their money, whether they’re cooking together because their therapist says they have to, whether the solar panels are a gift from a crime syndicate because of their drug smuggling efforts.
I have no idea whether the kitchen and solar panels make them happy. It looks as though their marriage makes them happy. So? They have that right. They’re allowed to find things that make them happy, to create traditions and habits that work for them.
I’m not always sure what makes me happy, but I know it involves going out on that deck in the sunlight, not hiding behind the blinds festering with jealousy based on comparisons I’ll never win because I’m juxtaposing apples with lemons.
So I’m off to make some lemonade.
Both this post’s photos show the sky over the Bay last Friday. I rolled down my window and took them at stop lights several miles apoart. Because I may not be harnessing the power of the sun for my laundry, but I use sunshine for other happy-making purposes.
Yeah. “The grass is always greener” moments get us all occasionally. For me personally, I tend to get that nasty jealous feeling during moments like this morning when our water pipes were frozen because the cat had pushed open the cellar door (the pipes are fine now) and there’s filth from the woodstove all over the floor and dirty snowpants and mittens drying out all over my dining room and so on with all the accompaniments to country life in a frozen climate. At such times, I start to think longingly of my brother and sister and their beautiful, new, and fully functional houses in the suburbs of warm cities.
But then I remember that their children don’t have six acres to play on and they have no room for a vegetable garden and it’s 110 degrees in July where they live. I wouldn’t trade even if I could.
Put plenty of sugar in your lemonade, and enjoy.
I honestly, honestly think of you every time there’s hot water upstairs. I remember your first winter with no running hot water. You’re awesome.
Amen!! I love this!! We have all, at one time or another, felt that bang of jealously gnaw at us. Its poison! I have sat and watched everyone live a better, fuller and happier life than me for some time, until it dawned on me, the same way it hit your, We are FINE!! My kids are crazy, but I like that!! They are loaded with personality, humor, social skills and the spirit of children. Let them act, silly, loud and crazy, because this is the time of their lives when that is exactly what they are supposed to be doing. And as for me, I am healthy, not rich, many times holding my breath ’till Friday, but happy as ever!! Enjoy your blue skies and get out on that deck!!!! LOL Love this!! I can totally relate!! Thank you for speaking the truth!! :)
Loud is beautiful. Until it’s not. And then I’m really luck I have a closet just big enough to hide in.
Great post! You are a wise woman! You write beautifully. Thanks for sharing your wit and wisdom!
Thank you for reading!
Envy / jealousy is wretched, true that. And normal. And worsened in a culture in which we are expected to display pretty scenes from our pretty lives via social media.
My home/marriage would have looked shiny from the outside in as well. It wasn’t.
My home/life looks far more chaotic/messy/in attractive now… Yet it’s in far better shape substantively.
Comparisons are always difficult – those to others, those to ‘the way we were,’ those to the way we thought we would be.
Comparisons are, as you note, often reality vs. unreality. Not a fair fight. Could have, would have, should have, they have…none of that is true. Today’s ups and downs are true. So are hope and love and joy and sorrow and fear. But regret and envy? They lie.
Oh, I don’t know….you’re filled with poetry. I often wonder what our neighbors think of us – our loud chaos and nothing ever in its right place. And I look at their wonderful grown children and wonder if it’s because they didn’t let them eat sugar or watch tv. These thoughts are the burden of circumstance. Both are real and true. I’d love to share lemonade with you.
Oh, do please come over for lemonade. We’ll drink it on the balcony and I’ll show you how awesome their kitchen is. For appreciating not coveting.
My new partner and I had a conversation during the Christmas holidays that comes to mind as I read this. We have both left bad relationships and have made a new life together. We are so in love, have 2 great children (mine) and just built an enormous, gorgeous new home (actually built, it was a big task). Yet, we can’t stop contemplating what my ex is doing when he is with the kids, how we stack up against his house, his adventures, his gifts…if we seem as happy as he does, is he faking it? is he talking to the kids about us? where do the kids prefer to be now and how will that change over time? What can we do to make sure we appear happier, healthier, more in love, more prosperous, better parents….instead of just being happy, healthy, in love, prosperous amazing parents. It is very hard to let go of the anger and the resentment, and it has turned into a competition that just keeps us unsatisfied. We realized this over the holidays and are trying really hard to change our frame of mind.
Wow. That is a lot to manage. Wishing you all the best of the “who cares what anyone think”s!
And my bet is that you caught them on the one night in 14 that they were actually getting along and not arguing over who forgot to pay the phone bill or who lost precious child’s favorite binky or how in the world they were going to afford those darn solar panels.
Hugs to you, sweet friend. There is more than a chance of clearing —- it WILL clear. Hang in there.
Jane: always wise and always prescient. Even if they do get along every single day of the year, that doesn’t measure me. Or them. It doesn’t measure anything. And nothing actually measure our worth as adults except sense of self. And mine is healthy.
Good to hear from you, Jane!
Comparison may lead to jealousy for some. And to insecurity and doubt for others. What happens to me, is I want to stop dreaming. Throw it all in and say “who do I think I am.” But then I tell myself. FIGHT. FIGHT for yourself because you have to, who else will? I love this, because I understand. Though we internalize it leading to a different outcome, the process is the same — seeing ourselves as unable, not having, not one of the lucky ones. But, our beautiful minds reel us back: we ARE the lucky ones. Every day. xo I love you.
I love you, too, sweet lady. And I do know, to my core, that I’m lucky. That human experience isn’t tidy or easy or often pretty. But that money issues are not core issues. Doing right by the people you love and the things that matter are core issues.
I don’t have much to say except that I loved reading this, it gave me little goosebumps, and it is beautifully written. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for your kind words!