When we had to move to Edmonton from Halifax a few years ago for my partner's work, we had a jetlagged whirlwind house-hunting weekend in which we saw a whopping 26 houses in a mere two days. We weren't thinking about planning the kind of neighourhood that would be the right fit, we were just focussed on looking for the right house that us, our 18 month old son, and any future tots we might have could grow in. We found the house, put in an offer, wrangled, bought the house, and headed back to Halifax on the red eye to commence packing and organizing. We were more than a bit nervous about moving to the more conservative West. We had no one who could tell us which neighbourhoods were more like 'gaybourhoods', and really hoped we'd managed to pick a neighbourhood that wouldn't be too weirded out by the gay folks moving in.
A month later, my wife already at work in her new job, my son and I pulled up outside our new home to wait for the moving vans. We were almost immediately greeted by an older lady from the house across the street. She didn't speak much English, but I did manage to make out the "where's your husband?" Flinching inwardly at what I guessed was going to be an awkward exchange, I decided honesty was the only policy, and corrected her. "My wife." She looked blankly at me and repeated her question. Once again, I corrected, "No, no husband... my wife!" She looked confused for a few seconds longer before repeating: "You . . . You.... wife?" I nodded. She promptly blanched and semi-surreptitiously made the sign of the cross. I tried very hard not to snort out loud. This was clearly not the 'gaybourhood.' It's probably safe to say it wasn't the best ever first meeting between neighbours.
Icebreaker #1: It was our 18 month old son that was mainly responsibly for winning them over. I am a stay-at-home mom, and we spent much of the summer playing outside on the front lawn, and meandering through the neighbourhood trying to get our bearings. He was always an infectiously happy little guy, and one morning, when we'd been playing on the front lawn, our across-the-street neighbour and her husband came over to our side of the street to see us. And he thoroughly and completely charmed them with his 18 month old self.
Icebreaker #2: It didn't hurt that we became pregnant with our second child shortly after moving to Edmonton. Eventually, our neighbours realized that we're like the lesbian Cleavers. Ward goes off to work everyday in her job as a prosecutor, and June stays home, with a bun in the oven (The Beave), taking care of our toddler (Wally), and doing every day June Cleaver-esque stuff like grocery shopping and cooking dinner and such.
Icebreaker # 3: My wife became seen as the neighbourhood protector. She is a prosecutor. She also happened to call the police when some further away neighbours had a domestic dispute that spilled onto the front lawn. And then when we all had some trouble with our drunk and departing neighbour, who was asking the old folks around the neighbourhood for money (accompanied by various sob stories), they came to L. for advice. Neighbourhood protectors.
And now - we get invited over for espresso, they let our son pick apples from their trees (which I promptly make into apple loaf and deliver one to them). And when our daughter was born, they stopped by with a present for her. Though - they were somewhat alarmed when they learned she would not be properly baptized (or baptized in any way, shape or form). We pretended not to notice when they furtively made the sign of the cross over her tiny sleeping body.
There's a language barrier, which probably in our case sort of helps our relationship remain in the safe zone. Much of our "chatting" consists of nodding and pantomime. I listen when they want to chat about health problems or things going on in the neighbourhood (of which they are the eyes and ears!)
Our neighbours have been in that same house across the street for over 30 years, watched their own kids grow and move out. They care about this neighbourhood. They care about us. When Boy-o set off the firealarm which resulted in FIVE firetrucks descending on our home (as I have previously blogged about), they were the first ones to arrive on our doorstep to make sure we were okay.
We'll probably never be each other's ideal neighbours - but deep down, we're all kind of sweet on each other. Just goes to show you that from time to time, allies can come from the unlikeliest of places.