I remember when we first looked out our house we loved the house and street and then we drove around to the back to see the "yard". I remember the deep disappointment I felt when I gazed upon the space. My heart literally sunk. The above photo is not of my yard but it is a picture of two of the homes at the end of my row. Our yard looked much like this though we did have rickety steps from the back door. This space, our yard, is small. You can fit two cars side by side in that space. It's tight but you can do it. I grew up on an acre of land with a big driveway. Like I said, very different.
But we did indeed buy this house with this tiny, very ugly yard. We had plans for the yard and the park is within a 10 minute walk from our house. So we thought it would be fine. This photo was taken when Grace was a baby. At this point, we had already skimmed a layer of dirt and garbage (think nails, broken glass, bottle caps, bits of linoleum) off of the original brick patio that we didn't even know was there. We fenced in the space and built a landing and steps. My brother and Dad helped us lot. When this picture was taken Brent and I decided to rip up the original brick patio. It was so damaged-lots of broken and missing bricks and very uneven and sunken. Plus we wanted to plant trees and flowers. So Brent and I dug up each brick by hand. A few of us neighbors all pitched in to get a dumpster and the majority of the broken bricks went in there. We saved the rest of the good bricks. We would put Grace to bed around 7 and then we would go outside and work on digging up the bricks.
Once we removed all the bricks, we bought dirt so that our yard was level with the alley. Then we made flower beds using the old bricks to define the space. We bought the crab apple tree first not long after Grace was born and then the almond tree when Grace was about 3. In this next photo Grace is 3. The almond tree has been planted and I am standing in front of a lilac bush and a miniature weeping willow tree. The soil must be very rich here and there must be an amazing source of water because all of these trees and shrubs exploded in the next few years.
I have loved living here in this house on the Northside but it hasn't been without challenges. The tiny yard being one of those challenges. With two growing kids and a love of being and staying home, we often felt our outdoor space was lacking. The kids use the alley and nearby parking lot for playing games and riding bikes.
For the last couple of years, Grace has loved climbing the almond tree. Although she is using a rope ladder in this picture she doesn't need it to get up. The beauty of the almond tree is that even the smallest kid can climb it.
Grace spends a lot of time just hanging out in the tree. We have pruned the tree with this in mind. Keeping certain branches that are her favorites or are ones that aid in climbing and sitting.
Like I said, we use every last outdoor space available to us even our tiny little stoop leading to the garden.
This photo is from last summer when the garden is in full bloom. It's so different from what it was in the beginning.
This spring when we were again pruning the almond tree I looked up and realized I could hang a rope swing from one of it's branches. I found a swing, ordered it and it was delivered in a couple of days. Brent hung the swing and it worked. Though the tree top branches sway a bit while the kids swing, the trunk of the tree is strong and stable.
The kids play on this swing for hours. Hours. Two kids and one swing and hours of play. Minimal fighting and bickering. They love this swing so much they have named it Cookie. And the tree is named Rouge (red in French). Brent and I bought two chairs and a fire ring so we can sit outside watching the kids happily play in this tiny yard. And everyone is happy. I neither have the space nor the money to give my kids anything so grand as a swimming pool or a climber or even a swing set. Sometimes I feel guilty about this. But getting this swing has taught me something so powerful. With this swing, I gave them so much more.
When kids start off with having nothing, and are given few things, when you do give them something so small and so simple as a tree swing it's like you've given the kids the whole world. Likewise, when kids start off with having everything, or are given everything, they often feel like they have nothing. They are bored with everything they have. They need more toys, more activities, more things to "make" them happy.
It amazes me how one swing can entertain my kids for hours. They have come up with games they play on the swing involving the tree stumps and running. They take turns beautifully. Sometimes their turn lasts only a few minutes at a time. Sometimes, one sister will allow the other sister to be on the swing for a long time like 10 or 15 minutes. The other sister either climbs the tree or digs in the dirt. I am filled with pride in how my girls play with one another outside. They share their swing with the neighbor kids too sometimes doing a four kid rotation.
One day not long after hanging the swing I starting scheming how to hang a second swing- after all if one swing is good, two is better right? But then I stopped myself. I was getting caught up in things again.
If I had lots of money and lots of space I guarantee I wouldn't have learned this lesson as powerfully as I have. Sometimes you fight against your lot in life. You wish for a different sort of life. More space, more money, more time. Whatever you have so often doesn't feel quite right. You think if I just had this ____ then I would be really happy. But when you stop wishing for a different life and just accept the one you have, you can learn lessons that in turn fill you with such a deep satisfying peace. Those things that you wished for don't matter anymore. You have everything you need to be happy. This swing and my kids showed me that. They taught me that.
Margot had a field trip in the Fox Chapel area last week. Brent took off work so we could take her. I haven't ever been in this part of Fox Chapel before. It was eye opening and deeply unsettling. Fox Chapel is old and beautiful and very, very rich. Rolling hills with large homes on acres of land. Home values are astronomical. The "cheapest" homes in Fox Chapel ensure that no working class family could ever live there. Though I can see the beauty of Fox Chapel I can never imagine living in a world like that or raising kids there. Certainly in the city you can buy million dollar homes, but within blocks of that million dollar home, you will find working class and even poor families living in houses and apartments.
It's funny how your life changes you. Living in this city for so long has changed me. I find the disparity of wealth in this country repulsive and sickening. If I were ever to become rich I can't imagine ever finding Fox Chapel a comfortable place to live. This city, this neighborhood, this home feels so right to me. So right for raising kids.
I am thankful that Brent and I are working class parents. I am thankful money prevents me from giving my kids too much. I am thankful that giving my kids a swing gave them the whole world. I am thankful my kids are not attached to acquiring possessions. When Grandma asks them what she can buy them, I am thankful they often say they want nothing. I am thankful they love the things they have but can part with them when they are no longer useful or played with. I am thankful I live among the very rich, the very poor and everyone in between.
But most of all I am thankful for my kids for once again teaching me something so important as all of this.
I love you Grace and Margot with all of my heart. I will love you forever and ever and always and I will never stop loving you.