House of Change

Posted on November 12, 2013

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beautiful attractive girl holding poker cards

I love the story of how I ended up with my dream house and so I’m going to share it with you here.

When I was two months pregnant, my husband and I decided that it was time to leave our already-cramped condo and find a house suitable for a family. In truth, we had been kinda-sorta looking for houses for a couple of years but when we found out we were having a baby, it upped the ante quite a bit. We picked a city, we set our budget and we hired a realtor.

Then I found an absolutely gorgeous house on a cul-de-sac that was $100K more than the highest price we could afford. It was listed as a short sale and it was also the unstable housing year of 2010, so I thought we’d try our luck.

The house was even prettier in person than on the real estate website. But, despite its hardwood floors and quality crown molding and high ceilings,  there were some troubling aspects.

For one, it was located on the side of a cliff and the backyard was becoming seriously eroded. The house had been custom-built for an art aficionado, which meant that there were many high ledges and landings he had created to display his entire art collection. These were also perfect places for an active little person to crawl up and crawl on and to fall from.

And, of course, there was the price. “Even in the worst of circumstances and with the best kind of negotiating, it’s still pretty unlikely it will make it into your range,” the realtor told us. At this, I almost cried real tears. It was a completely unrealistic home for a family with small children, but I had already fallen in love with the neighborhood. The public gazebo, surrounded by azaleas, the gorgeous pool and cute children’s park, the quaint cobble-stoned sidewalks and the pretty Southern architecture. I was positive it was the place where I wanted to raise my kids.

While my husband and I were debating whether or not we should even make an offer, I had a miscarriage. A few weeks later, someone else bought that house. I felt like all of my dreams were suddenly gone.

Miracles happen, though, and I eventually became pregnant again. When I made it into my fourth month, we resumed where we had left off.

We must have looked at hundreds of houses. If I loved one, G. hated it and if he liked one, I saw a million things wrong with it. After a couple of months of unsuccessful searching, we were worn out and tired. Each day I was growing more and more pregnant and I couldn’t see how in the world I was going to muster up enough energy to keep looking.

Then, by yet another strange miracle, with a random internet search, I found a gorgeous house in that incredible neighborhood I had fallen in love with the year before. It was a foreclosure and, with some hard-nosed negotiating, now realistically within our price range. We made an offer, we did an inspection, we jumped through a million hoops with the sellers involved and within a few months, we finally moved in. If I hadn’t been eight months pregnant, I probably would have been jumping for joy.

Then some disappointing reality started setting in.

No one stopped by with casseroles or cookies or even introductions. When I would waddle down the block to get some exercise and my neighbors would pass by, I’d wave, only to be ignored. And once, while I was going to get the mail, I overheard my next door neighbors talking about “dumb liberals” and “the idiots who voted for Obama.” After a couple of weeks, I wondered if we had made the right choice. Maybe I judged the book by its cover only. Maybe we bought a pretty house in a pretty neighborhood but we were surrounded by assholes.

I had my baby and there were many complications. It was an incredibly scary time in our lives and after several weeks of horrible uncertainty about my health, I was released from the hospital. The day we came home, there were two nasty warnings from the HOA in our mailbox, something about our not-black-enough shutters and the not-fresh-enough mulch, threatening fines if we didn’t fix these immediately.

Needless to say, moving into this place did not come with the warmest welcome.

I was hoping that after some time, things would change. That the neighbors would see me strolling my infant around the block and chat me up. That people would see that we were a new family and stop by to congratulate us. There were a few obligatory, awkward exchanges at times when I’d try to move my stroller out of the way for a neighbor walking his dog, but other than that, we were coldly and utterly ignored. Despite what had previously seemed like fate intervening on our behalf, what had seemed like an amazing second chance, now started to feel like a very big, and very expensive, mistake.

One of my favorite Byron Katie exercises is the Judge-Your-Neighbor worksheet. If you really want to get clarity, one of the best things you can do is to get real deep into The Work of Byron Katie. Of all the coaching tools I have, this is one of the most effective and transformative. After a year of living in my dream house and in my not-so-dreamy neighborhood, I was still in a funk about our move. So I decided to do some self-coaching. I decided, in the words of B.K., to turn all of my judgments around.

“They should be bringing us cookies!” turned into, “I should be bringing them cookies.” “They should be more friendly to me,” turned into “I should be more friendly to them.” “They should ask how my family is,” turned into “I should ask how their family is.”

Being someone who likes to walk her talk, I did just that. I made 150 chocolate chip cookies from scratch, wrapped them up, tied them with bows, and then, a week before Christmas, hand-delivered a dozen of them to every house on my block. I brought G. and the baby with me. We introduced ourselves, made some friendly conversation, and dropped off the cookies.

A week later, it was like someone waved a fucking magic wand over this neighborhood.

Neighbors would not only drive by and wave, but stop, roll down their windows and start conversations with me. When I would be out walking or running around the neighborhood, people would smile and ask after my family. One of my neighbors, who owns an antique shop and realized I like antiques, brought me over a vintage suitcase from her store.  My next door neighbor gave me her number to use in case our babysitter needed an emergency contact. Many of my neighbors remember my son’s name and, because he’s crazy about dogs, let him pet their “woof-woofs.”This October, one of my neighbors even left a little bucket of Halloween goodies on my doorstep.

Now I have my dream house and I have my dream neighborhood, too.

The neighbors to the right of us, who believed my political views indicated a lack of intelligence, moved away a few months ago. A new couple moved in. I made sure to stop by, introduce myself and bring them a casserole.

Gandhi was right. You have to be the change you want to see in the world.

Sometimes you have to be the one who sets the tone and who extends the kindness (even if the other person doesn’t seem to deserve it). Sometimes you have to be the person who forgives first or who bakes the cookies.

That’s just life, I guess. A lot of unexpected shit is going to happen and you’re not always going to be dealt the hand you were hoping for. Sometimes your wishes aren’t going to come true. And sometimes they will and they’ll come with their own set of problems. If you want to live an empowered life, you’ve got to accept that. If you want things to change, it’s going to have to start with you.

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Posted in: Change