When we moved into our house eight years ago, we were delighted to learn that the backyard neighbors had kids. Not just any kids--two boys the same ages as our son and daughter.
The eldest were three at the time, and the little ones were just babies. We spent a lot of time over the next few years in our backyards because, for a toddler, a backyard is world enough.
The neighbor boys liked to dig in the dirt. Really, really liked to dig in the dirt. Instead of buying their boys a sand box, the neighbors decided to build what the boys really wanted--a place to play in the dirt.
At the edge of our property lines, where we both could see it from our houses, the neighbor dad cleared an area of grass, much like he was putting in a small garden bed. He edged it with paving bricks, and then he did the most amazing thing. He sifted through all that dirt, making sure there was nothing in it that could hurt the kids.
It was back-breaking work. I know, because I stood there and watched him work and sweat, trying to decide if he was the best dad ever or just nuts. Maybe both.
It was a huge success. The digging pit, as it became known, overflowed with shovels, trucks, and kids. Their boys could move dirt around for hours, and in her second year, my daughter was covered head-to-toe in dirt most days. Over time, lawn chairs appeared so that digging pit spectators didn't need to stand. On weekend mornings, we parents would congregate around the digging pit with our coffee, watching the kids play and ensuring that no one got hit over the head with a rake.
Time marches on, and our kids are now eleven and eight. No one has played in the digging pit for a very long time. Without the children drawing us to the property line, we adults don't spend much time together anymore. The kids still play together, but we don't need to supervise them like we once did. We adults stay in our own houses and yards, doing our own things.
When I do visit the neighbors, I get wistful when I step over the digging pit. It is neglected and weed-infested. There are no more trucks. All four kids couldn't fit in there if they wanted to, which they don't. The overgrown digging pit is a reminder of when our kids' world was simple and small.
I watched landscapers planting there today. The digging pit is no more. It is now the garden bed it always resembled, with large plants blocking the way from our house to theirs. Instead of pulling us together, the digging pit is now an obstacle to be walked around.
The kids aren't so little anymore, and that's made us that much less neighborly. The digging pit era has long been over, but those new plants make it clear in a way the weeds had not. Those plants make me sad.
Goodbye, digging pit.