Boundaries and Childhood

I wrote this some time ago, but as I’m feeling particularly reflective today for various reasons, I feel like posting it…

The chubby little girl that lives two houses down from mine walked down our street a few minutes ago, carrying with both arms something that looked, in the flash of a glance I got, like a watermelon wearing a yarn wig. Her mother passed by just now, barefoot, crossing the middle of the front yard of the house between ours, crossing the middle of my driveway and front yard, and stopped on the street in front of my house to call her daughter back. A white cat with orange-striped feet and tail followed, rubbing its side against her calves.

And now the blonde nurse who lives on the other side of my house — the one with the husband who plays drums (poorly) and who has people over almost every night — is taking her chihuahua for a walk. It pees on the edge of each and every front yard.

I don’t think they know I’m home. My husband and I have one car between us, and he took it to work with him, and I don’t go outside much, especially not when other people are around. I’m a little bit of a shut-in, I guess. Or I just like my privacy at home. Going out is for being around other people; home is my cave. Throughout the summer, the neighborhood kids run across our backyard and climb the crape myrtle on our front yard. The yards are small here, and they’ve adapted by turning every yard into their playground. I miss having their sense of freedom, their obliviousness to boundaries. I guess it’s a little weird that they’re in my yard because I don’t really know them or their parents, but that’s beside the point.

When I was a kid, I’d tromp through the woods behind my house and cross property lines, whether they were marked or not. I never climbed over fences, but if I found a way through one, I’d take it. And if there wasn’t a fence, I assumed I was free to cross. Once, an old neighbor came outside while some friends and I were on a walk and yelled at us to get off his property. I don’t think he’d actually been holding a shotgun at the time, but that’s the image I have of him in retrospect.

And now I feel vaguely affronted when the kids play in my yard. I never tell them to leave, but I keep my eye on them from whatever window I happen to sit at. I tell myself, “It’s not a big deal; they can play wherever they want,” but I can’t help feeling ill at ease until they go and “my property” (which isn’t even accurate, since we’re renting right now) is mine alone again.

When did boundaries make themselves known to me — both the visible and invisible ones? When did they start seeming solid, absolute, and when did I start expecting other people to respect them as well?

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  1. Ha! You are so much like me, it’s eerie. As you know, I prefer to be at home than anywhere else. Some people call me agoraphobic. but I don’t agree. I’m not afraid to leave the house; I just feel most comfortable at home.

    As for maintaining boundaries, I think it’s a part of growing up. I guess it doesn’t seem reasonable to expect kids to respect boundaries if they’re not hurting anything, but we still feel compelled to want people–even kids–to stay out of our yards. Perhaps it’s just human nature and deeply ingrained in us from our caveman ancestry, the need to protect our “turf.”

    1. Haha Like mother, like daughter. 🙂 I think you’re right about boundaries, growing up and territoriality. Some species of birds are highly territorial, like that little Carolina wren that sleeps under our eaves (he makes such a racket on the deck, trying to keep the other male birds away), as well as cats, dogs and other animals. I guess it’s natural for humans to want their own, private spaces, too.

  2. I think this is an extension of the feeling you get when someone stands too close when they are talking to you. Your ‘personal space’ is invaded; personal space being anything closer than an arms length that could carry a fist.

    As you grow ‘older’ the boundary extends to keep away other senses of perceived harm, till finally you’re an ‘old timer’ screaming “get off my property”. How sad.

    This is one of the reasons I really enjoy visiting the great cathedrals of wilderness rivers and forests, a reminder, and the sense of space that it belongs to no-one, but everyone.

    1. I’m with you on wild spaces. One of my husband’s and my favorite things to do is to go on nature walks through the national park (swamp) not far from our home. Being in a barely disturbed, publicly shared natural space is the greatest balm for that knotted-up, stay-off-my-lawn suburban mindset. We breathe easier when it’s just trees, rivers and sunlight.

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