downs

We have recently become “Front Yard People.” You know the type — the ones splayed out in their lawn chairs with children’s toys peppering the ground around them. Yep. That’s us. 

I’m not sure at what point we officially converted from “back yard people” to “front yard people,” as it was more of a gradual migration than an official decision. It started during quarantine in the spring. I began noticing that when I’d send the kids out the back door to play, they’d later knock on the front door to come in. I resisted this transition at first. 

The backyard makes so much more sense. It’s more comfortable. It’s safer. Most importantly, there’s a fence to conceal the giant mess that seems to follow my children. 

“Are you sure you don’t want to play in the backyard?” I’d beg them. They’d respond: “Nope. We like the front yard.” 

Ugh. Fine. I concede. Although it felt weird and uncomfortable, I began to realize the draw of the front yard was not the landscape — it was the company. My kids were talking to every neighbor within earshot, and some who were not. 

Undeterred by distance or headphones, they just learned to raise the volume and intensity of their greetings. They even trained our youngest child, Cooper, to wave and say “hi” because they realized he would lure in the victims more effectively. I could see the innocent passersby fighting to detangle themselves from the spider web they’d accidentally walked into. Thank you, dear neighbors, for smiling kindly as you tried to walk away, only to be joined for half a block by my 5-year-old talking incessantly.

I have to admit though, that once I got over the embarrassment of becoming “front yard people,” I have actually come to enjoy it. We have made connections that we never expected, through conversations that never would have happened in our backyard.

We were designed for connection. We thrive when we open ourselves up for it. If we can set aside our desire to be comfortable and keep our messes contained neatly behind our fences, then we allow ourselves to be seen by others. At first, it seems unnecessary and more work than it’s worth. We’re constantly trying to tidy up the mess that is our life so others won’t judge us. We’re always trying to hurl things over the fence in an attempt to maintain our dignity.

When I first started letting others see my messy side it felt vulnerable and embarassing. When we keep our mess contained in the backyard, it feels safer, more comfortable. But we lose out on connections when we hide behind our fences. We forfeit the opportunity to truly be seen. To be released, set free, loved in spite of our flaws. When we let others see our imperfections, it allows for more connection, and that is far more life-giving than keeping it contained.

And it’s a lot less work. So now I’m committed. I’m officially a “front yard person,” literally and metaphorically. Take it or leave it. I’m done throwing my mess over the fence.

Stefanie Downs is a stay-at-home mom of three young boys. She writes in an effort to capture the beautiful chaos of life with little ones. She is also a longtime reader of the Webster-Kirkwood Times.