The Fourteenth Letter: Privacy Fences


Dear Daughters,

We hired a local company to put up a fence for us a few weeks ago.

We’d talked about it for awhile, mostly in terms of safety and keeping you hemmed in a bit, but we knew it would have to be a pretty long fence and we couldn’t decide how to partition off the yard.

Houses in our 1950s neighborhood are pretty close together–though not nearly as close as those of most of my suburbia friends. Still, on one side, we’ve got a double driveway separating us from our neighbors. Or “joining us intimately to our neighbors” is perhaps a better way to put it, given the impossibility of keeping our lives separate from theirs, even if we wanted to. So there’s no place for a fence on that side.

On the other side, well, we’ve got an extra lot. It’s all wonderful green grassy yard, except the part we’ve dug up to plant a garden and the old, precariously still-standing trees. On that extra lot is a decades-old swing set, the pine-tree-green painted metal kind I played on as a kid. Perhaps because it is such a retro swing set, or because that extra lot is also on the corner of our block, the neighbor kids like to swing on it.

We’ve welcomed and encouraged them to play in our yard for the five years we’ve lived in this house, but it’s really only been this summer that they’ve finally started doing so. It helped that it got so hot back on mother’s day weekend that we got out the impressive kiddie pool and acquired a sandbox. But even during the preceding weeks, that ancient swing set became the highlight of the neighborhood, it seemed.

The more the yard got used by you and by the neighbors, the more we really wanted a fence. A picket fence. Four feet tall. Spaces between each slat. It wasn’t to block everyone out, just to keep them safer.

So we had a local fencing company come and give us an estimate, and then finally, after many weeks of rain, they arrived to build the fence. We knew they would do it in two days–the first day, placing all the big brace posts, and the second day, putting up all the pickets. It would seem miraculous.

And it kind of was.

Except that the posts they sunk into the ground the first day were all eight-footers. Eight-foot posts, every few feet, all the way around the immense side yard. It looked like we were building a fortress.

The truth is, I kind of judge people who have privacy fences, at least the kind of privacy fences that are keeping their yards private from the road. Sure, I understand putting up a tall fence along property lines–that’s what we did along the back, given the plethora of sheds and outbuildings and a leaky swimming pool our neighbors to the rear have–but, well, privacy fences are just so unwelcoming.

Which I suppose is the point.

After that first day, with these enormous posts in our yard, I worried that people might be judging us. I wanted to shout at every car that drove by: “Wait until tomorrow! It’s not a privacy fence! I promise! It will be pretty! Don’t judge us!

And that is ridiculous, I realize. Nobody cares what kind of fence you put in your yard. At least, most people don’t. I tried to reassure myself.

But then a friend of mine came to visit that afternoon, and one of the first things she said, when I pointed out that the posts would be cut down to four feet tall, once the pickets were up, was “I was going to say, you sure don’t seem like privacy fence kind of people.”

Then we invited neighbors over for an impromptu dinner out in the yard, and one of them said, looking at the eight-foot posts, “I didn’t think you seemed like privacy fence people.

So apparently I’m not the only one who has a category of “privacy fence people” in their minds.

The good news: We don’t seem like those kind of people.

The bad news: Our posts made us look like those kind of people.

It didn’t matter in the long run, of course. Within two days, we had the fence built and trimmed down to size. But it did get me thinking about what “kind of people” we are and how we present ourselves to our neighborhood.

We’re community folks. We’re hospitality folks. We’re it’s-okay-to-invite-friends-in-for-dinner folks. But do our neighbors know that?

I can say that I want our yard to be a welcoming place for the neighbor kids, but I don’t know the names of our older neighbors directly across the street from us. It’s awkward, five years in, but we’ve remained in that wave-from-a-distance kind of relationship. Trying to remedy this, I did walk their little dog back over to their house the other day when she showed up in our yard, and as a result I learned the dog’s name is Daisy. The dog’s name.

It’s a start, I guess.

I’m glad that people who know us know that we aren’t privacy fence people.

But what kind of people are we? Well, I suppose that’s always a good question to ask yourself.


Your Momma



The Eighth Letter: Messy Houses & Being Real

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Dear Daughters,

When I was a little girl, I spent a few days each summer at Grandma and Pappy Lehman’s house. I walked in the morning with my grandma and her TOPS friends, learned how to weed a garden, played UNO in the evenings. Each summer, we’d spend a few hours cleaning her spoon collection. I slept in the purple bedroom at the end of the hall.

One of the best things about visiting Gram and Pap’s was getting to go to work with Gram because Gram was a cleaning lady.

I loved going into those big empty houses. They were never very messy or dirty, but that’s probably because Gram cleaned them regularly. My favorites were the ones that seemed like mansions to me at the time, the biggish homes in upper-middle class suburbia. The master bedroom beds were all incredibly high, which always seemed so fancy to me. I have friends who live in those kinds of houses now.

I don’t know if visiting Gram is when I learned to clean or not, but I sure did learn to clean early on. Cleaning—vacuuming, mopping, dusting, toilets, sinks—and doing dishes and sorting laundry and stripping the bed and remaking it: I don’t remember not knowing how to do these things.

Of course, I still know how to do them.

But I rarely do them. Only when absolutely necessary.

Or so it seems.

We bought this house in 2010, so we’re in our fifth year here, and I’m pretty sure it’s only been cleaned thoroughly twice—both times by your grandma, immediately following one of your births. By “thoroughly,” I mean that the baseboards were wiped down, the windows shined up, the closets sorted through.

It just isn’t a priority for me.

Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that I don’t prefer a clean house. I like things to be picked up, and I don’t like the mess. I hate feeling the dirt under my bare feet and it annoys me when I find the shirt I want to wear in the dirty laundry basket.

In fact, having the house a wreck really does bother me and stresses me out. Just ask your dad. I especially freak out about the house being a mess when we are about to have people over.

Part of this is because I was raised in an exceptionally clean house with a bathroom that got scrubbed down every week, and this set the standard a bit too high for my own mental health.

And part of this is because I’m embarrassed to let people see my mess.

I wish the latter weren’t the case, but there you have it.

I distinctly remember visiting a friend of mine in Texas and walking into her kitchen to get something to drink. The sink was piled so full of dirty dishes that I couldn’t use the faucet to fill my water glass. I thought to myself, Wow, I really wish I was relaxed enough to have people over with this big of a mess in my kitchen. And then I thought, No, I don’t.

That was before I had children.

Girls, having you in my space perpetually disrupting things and making a mess—for example, pulling the books off a bookshelf I’ve just restocked—has chilled me out a little bit. A very little bit.

If I know people are coming over, I tend to do a quick once-over of wiping up crumbs, throwing all the loose toys into the nearest box or bin, putting the dirty dishes into the sink, if there is room in the sink. Sometimes I even look into the toilet bowl just to make sure it’s been flushed. Sometimes.

But you know what?

Sometimes people stop by unexpectedly. And the house is a mess.

That is life.

Recently, our friends stopped in with their new baby. Of course, I invited them in. I had to step out of the room for a minute when the nine-month-old woke from her nap, and when I came back in, our friend said, “I was just saying that I really love that your house isn’t picked up. It makes me feel so much better.”

That, girls, is profound. People need to know that life isn’t perfect. That it’s messy sometimes, maybe even most of the time.

If your friends—and heck, strangers—only ever see you with your hair done, with your car clean, your books in alphabetical order on our bookshelf, your life all put together, then they’ll never be able to be real with you. And real life is so messy.

So go ahead and disinfect that toilet bowl and throw your dirty clothes in the washing machine. I’m not saying you should be a bum. But I am saying you should be real.

And sometimes the ring inside the toilet bowl is what’s real.


Your Momma