“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard.” – Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz.
Technically, my backyard is not solely mine. I share it with several other townhouse-renting families –and one unspeakably boorish group of 20something guys who tout their cigar-smoking, beer-guzzling, tawdry-storytelling-ways, loudly, on their patio, at all hours — whose back door, like mine, opens up to a large oval quad broken up by the occasional tree and makeshift badminton net.
After 20 years of being a homeowner with a private backyard, it initially felt strange and college-like to be sharing a lawn with a bunch of other people.
But I have grown to love the communal quad. Franny has developed a posse of tween and early-teen girls who scooter back and forth on the pathway to each other’s homes, and through the passway to other quads where yet more tweens can be found.
During these summer months, it was not uncommon for me to arrive home from work, and look out the floor-to-ceiling windows to spot Franny playing tetherball or gathered in a gaggle of girls murmuring things like, “Of course I didn’t tell my mom!,” which I sort of overheard when my ear accidentally fell against the window screen. When Franny goes to her dad’s house, she leaves a note on the back door: Dear Cassie, Lulu, Grace, Savannah, Rachel and Sophie: I’ll be back on Monday!
And Luca, who until now had never had a close friend, has acquired one. Paolo, whose family came here two years ago from Italy, lives three doors down. He and Luca met each other hanging out on the quad and became instant friends. They are both skinny, spiffily-dressed, and high-octane. They are two caged cats in apartments, bursting out the back doors to run back and forth to each other’s homes, or videotape the unsuspecting security card on an iPad, or bike up to the outdoor mall.
There’s something about the shared yard that creates an “it takes a village ambience.” Last week, Franny’s friend Cassie showed up at our back door. Her mother had locked her keys in the car. Cassie ate dinner with us and watched Glee on DVD with Franny until her mother got home. For a single working mother who arrives home at 6:30 p.m., it is invaluable knowing that not only could Franny get instant help in an emergency, but she also has built-in playmates to keep her from feeling alone.
Sharing a backyard has taught me that some of the things we feel we need to be happy — in my case, attachment to an upscale station in life — are illusions. Owning a home with a private yard is great if you can swing it, but it’s not going to manufacture happiness. What it can manufacture is a constant migraine knowing you are solely responsible for the roof if it caves in and wondering how you would ever pay for it.
I feel 100 pounds lighter with that homeowning albatross off my shoulders. There are no Joneses here to keep up with, but plenty of Joneses to help you out in a pinch. I don’t have to look any further than my own backyard.
Today, I’m thankful for my backyard.
lisa thomson says
Awesome post, Pauline! I’m happy for you. I can so much relate to this. Home is where the heart is and what you make it. It doesn’t have to be a private home and all that entails. I recently blogged about whether to own or rent after divorce and not surprisingly, I found many benefits to renting.
I read that post! Wish I’d had that frame of mind earlier, I would have saved myself money and a bunch of moves.
Thank you for this. We’re confronting the need to downsize because of a divorce and my kids are *freaking out.* I appreciate the reminder that home is where and what you make it.
Christina Simon says
Aside from the frat boys, its sounds lovely.
Love this post! I am DONE with the private back yard. Too much effort and responsibility. I’m liking the idea of rent.
thanks for this. starting graduate school at 48 and moving into campus townhomes with 2 11 years and my boyfriend. great location and cheap, but a loss of space & privacy. now it sounds like a fun adventure.
I should have done this long ago — no need to own, especially since I lost money in the housing crash. And now, when there’s something broken…it’s not my problem!!!
I love this post! I downsized from an 8 acre farmette with 2 barns an an historic (1760′s) HUGE home to a 2,000 square foot cape on a little under an acre. It is so much easier to maintain both physically and financially. My house is within walking distance to school, the town store, and the library. I love that we see people and get to know our neighbors. I look forward to downsizing even further when my 11 year old graduates from high school. I want to live in an apartment in a big city again.