Neighbours. Now, I’m not referring to the TV Soap, strangely popular in the U.K., a training camp for the Kylie Minogues and Margo Robbies of the world. A show synonymous with Harold and his waggling chin. Instead, I refer to the rite of passage of kids befriending kids, particularly those conveniently living nearby. Friendships, that have become, for us, even more crucial in the early days of COVID-19 #stayathome. A metaphorical hand that has pulled our children through to the other side; the return to kinder, the return to school.

Kids often crave things that are actually bad for them: lollies, chocolate – that one’s contentious – TV or experiences beyond what is ‘age appropriate.’ But, if lucky enough to have the kind of blessed childhood, where there is room to feel bored, then sometimes, I think kids are the most adept at honing in on what they need most – except maybe sleep; show me a child that confesses to being tired, who doesn’t become cranky at the mere suggestion, nay accusation, of being told ‘I think you must be tired.’

How often kids play outdoors in the hope of coming across other kids. How delighted they are to stumble across another child while playing at the park, as we once did, or anywhere where the opportunity might allow for a little ‘play.’ For me, growing up, my neighbours were the people I wanted to see most on the weekend or in the long afternoons that followed on from 3:30pm, when hot Milo and cartoons just didn’t cut it. 

One year, after landing back on Australian soil after enduring twenty-three hours of flying from the other side of the world – Canada, my home away from homes – I leapt out of the car, ran down the driveway and leapt out onto the road. There was a spring in my step because of the exhilarating feeling of seeing my best friends who lived across the road after a whole month apart, a whole month of relearning to cross the road in a country where drivers ‘drive on the wrong side of the road.’ As my front foot landed onto the bitumen a woman came around the bend, blasting her horn. Exaggerated hand gestures behind a sealed car window. Unable to cross the road, my confidence shattered, I ran back down the drive and returned home, suitably shaken.

I have multiple memories of being eager to see my neighbours. On one occasion, I was relegated to my room – the place, filled with toys, where parents send their misbehaving children. The ‘Ninja Turtle boys’ who lived behind us – labelled by my Dad who was bemused by the costumes they once donned – placed a ladder up against my bedroom window and aided my escape, enabling my return to ‘come and play.’

‘Marrrr-eeeee-Clarrrrrre’ could often be heard from the back fence of my childhood home. As if responding to the calling of a conch, not unlike Piggy’s conch in ‘Lord of the Flies,’ I would run down to the back fence to be greeted by the sister of the Ninja Turtles, ‘Talia-Bree From Over the Sea’ – a name also attributed by my Dad, because of its rhyming qualities and, perhaps, because her’s was a voice that could travel. 

My eldest son, in a final assignment before returning to school was asked to write things he was thankful for: chalk rainbows, teddy bears pinned to fences; signs of solidarity and love. Here’s what I am thankful for.

As I hear the syllables of our eldest son’s name dragged out in full volume across the fence and the conch-like call of our younger son’s name coming from the opposing neighbouring fence, I am grateful for the sound. Because I understand, this is their sound; a sound that will be heard long after COVID-19.

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Writer, lover of language, explorer of genre. Mother of 3!

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