A few days ago Social Dendrite left a comment, asking:
How do you meet the local neighborhood friends? I’d really like this for our kids (now 7 and almost 5) but have had a hard time finding anyone. The few families I do know […] never seemed to be around. But I’ve seen loads of similarly aged kids around during the pandemic […] Did you approach the families, or did your kids make the connection somehow themselves? I remember when we moved house when I was about 7 or 8, my parents sent me and my older sister round by ourselves to knock on the door of a neighbor’s house that they knew had kids, to introduce ourselves. But that seems somehow weird in this day and age. Or is it? PS I’m an introvert so find this sort of thing difficult!
Well, I’m glad you asked. We don’t go to the neighbourhood public school, so we had to find friends in other ways. Here’s how it worked for us:
With K’s friend (also named K) I had met her mum when the girls were just babies. It’s easy to strike up a conversation if someone’s got a baby or a pet, so we walked together and chatted. Then she went back to work and we didn’t see each other much. The girls met a few years later at a neighbourhood day camp and became fast friends. We invited the little girl over for a play date in our backyard. The girls bonded instantly. As soon as they were old enough, we allowed them to go freely between the two houses (it was a 100-metre walk in a straight line) and the friendship was out of my hands. It’s been wonderful.
N met his neighbourhood friend through school. It’s not the local public school, but it’s relatively nearby and this boy was in the same specialized program as N — he just happened to live four blocks from us. Thankfully his parents (one of whom we had coincidentally met while waiting for our meeting with the school placement committee) also believe in free-range children, and soon he was ringing on our doorbell in the afternoons to play with N.
R met her neighbourhood bestie on the bus to day camp. I met this girl’s mom while waiting for the bus and we hit it off. The girls liked each other, we live just down the street from them, and that was really all it took for the girls to want to play together.
The story of E’s new friend is probably the one Social Dendrite really wants to hear. We didn’t meet her at camp or at school. I actually had met her mom ten years ago when she moved in. A few weeks back Mr. December and I were out for a walk and I saw her unloading her car. We walked up and I said, “I remember meeting you a long time ago and I just wanted to say hi. I’m Sara, by the way.” From there I asked about her children’s ages, and when she mentioned a five-year-old girl I said, “My youngest daughter is five. She’d love to have a friend on the street. We should introduce them.”
This neighbour responded enthusiastically and was soon telling me that since they don’t go to the neighbourhood school either, her kids don’t know anyone on the street. I promised to come by with E and introduce her later in the week, which we did. I exchanged phone numbers with the mom and texted her the next weekend with an invitation to come play in our backyard. As it turns out, we got along well and she’s easy to talk to. We share the same attitudes about being connected with our neighbours. The girls had a lot of fun and didn’t want to part. It was a promising beginning.
To read these stories you might think it all happened pretty easily. For the record, I’ve approached many of our neighbours over the years with disappointing results. There was the mom whose daughter was the same age as K but far more mature, and when we had playdates K was rather aggressive; I shied away from that friendship after a while. There was the family on the next block with a few boys, one around N’s age. After a couple of backyard visits it became apparent that the boys just weren’t really interested. Then there was the new family to whom we introduced ourselves while delivering a Purim basket. The mom opened the door just a crack and seemed hesitant to take the basket or to converse much. I assumed she was just not a neighbourly sort of person, and I respected that. We later met her very congenial husband and their son, who is just a bit younger than E, but the lack of warmth meant that we didn’t really pursue it.
And finally, there was Molly (not her real name.) I had introduced myself to Molly’s parents when they moved in about seven years ago. When I saw them out in the front yard last year, I re-introduced myself and asked the little girl how old she was.
“Four,” she replied.
“You know what? My daughter E is four, too. She’d love to play sometime if you’re around. Is that okay?” Molly and her mom agreed that it would be fine.
At every opportunity E begged me to go knock on Molly’s door and invite her to play. And we did — quite a few times. Somehow it was never a good time. Molly was too tired from school, she was napping, she was out with her dad — all very valid and real reasons why she couldn’t play. But after the fourth or fifth such encounter, I started to feel awkward. It was always us reaching out, never them. I was starting to wonder if maybe they were just not that into us. So after a while we stopped knocking. If they’re interested, well, they know where we live.
I guess the best advice I can offer is that you have to be unafraid of rejection. Or, if you are, and you live with your co-parent, get them to do it instead (that’s what I did.) And just in case you need them, here are some of my favourite opening lines:
“Hi, I don’t know you yet. I’m Sara.” The “yet” implies that getting acquainted is inevitable. No time like the present!
“Are you our new neighbours? I’m Sara. Ours is the big blue house.” It’s always a good idea to know who lives where, right?
“Your front garden is beautiful — my kids admire it every time we pass!” People love a compliment. Also, I’ve just signalled that I have kids. That’s usually enough for the other person to ask about my kids and tell me about theirs.
So there you have it — my guide to meeting the neighbourhood children. If you’re an introvert, find out what day camp the neighbours’ kids go to and sign yours up for the same one. If you’re okay introducing yourself, go do that. And don’t take rejection personally. Get out there, be friendly, and meet people. Your life will be richer for it, whether or not you find your child’s new best friend.