Keep calm and party on

I was freaking out a little last week. By a little, of course, I mean a lot. I could list any number of possible reasons— birthday parties, Father’s Day, the 104 unread emails in my inbox—but there was an even more pressing issue on my mind: Neighbour Day.

Neighbour Day is an annual celebration of neighbourliness where Calgarians are encouraged to come out of their houses and interact with the other humans who live nearby. The city started it a few years ago to commemorate how compassionate we all were after the 2013 floods. To sweeten the deal, they waive the fee for Neighbour Day block party permits. Bring on the open alcohol!

Generally, I like to let the social aspects of life unfurl as the universe intends—or maybe I’m just lazy and I can’t be bothered to influence the cosmos—but when I heard about this block party idea, I decided to throw my disorganization tendencies to the wind. I had visions of children frolicking, adults guffawing, balloons, an ice cream truck, firefighters (for the kids, of course), a circus. I figure this all must have come about during a period of reduced cognitive function for me, though that basically describes motherhood so far so it's hard to pin point.

Despite my amateur planning skills, last year’s party was great fun. We got a decent turn out, but it was largely the core group of neighbours who already knew each other that ended up hanging out until 2am. I wanted this year to be even better, but I had no idea how to make that happen. I felt immense self-imposed pressure to have all the cards lined up in advance. While I’m okay with leaving my own social life to chance, I didn’t think that was a good strategy for a group of 40-50 near-strangers who were being asked to hang out with each other for six hours.

Then, a few weeks ago, a lesson presented itself. Some of the dads held an informal barbecue competition. There was much talk of cuts, sauces, rubs, etc. The women steered clear. I think we were all just happy to have someone else plan and execute a neighbourly get-together. But an hour before the time of judgement, we started to ask questions: Where would we meet? Were there side dishes (like, I don’t know, vegetables)? Come to think of it, were there dishes?

Blank stares.

My better half was even surprised to learn that I was planning to serve some of this carnivore’s delight to our children for dinner. I think he was surprised to learn that any of us were planning to eat it for dinner! And yet, by some miracle (a.k.a. the women), it all came together. 

I tried desperately to keep that in mind as the days leading up to the block party flew by at a remarkable pace, taking my sanity with them. Somehow, it would all work out. People would still have fun if I didn’t rent a massive bouncy castle or arrange for a visit from a food truck or the mayor, right? I didn’t even know what time to make the damn thing start, so I just told people the barbecue would start at 5pm and left the rest of the day to chance. I took a deep breath and hoped for the best. 

Surprise of the century, our second annual block party was totally and absolutely amazing. All I did was get the permit, hand out flyers, and buy some burgers. I didn’t tell people what to bring. I didn’t tell them when to come. It just happened, like a beautiful, independent organism that thrives on social interaction and ridiculous amounts of food.

The kids ran around in bathing suits all day, periodically stopping to consume fruit, chips, or ice cream. They made new friends. It was awesome! It made me think there is hope for a 70’s summer after all, where we send them out the door in the morning and yell for them to come back at dinner.

On the adult side of things, we got to know neighbours we’ve lived near for eight years but have never really met. The 89-year-old lady who’s lived at the end of the block for 60 years came out with tins of cookies. The people we never, ever see come out of their houses came out of their houses. And I hardly did a thing. All that fretting for nothing. <Insert eye-roll emoji>

Thus, I have written myself a list for next year: 

  1. Book fire department earlier.
  2. Invite adjacent blocks.
  3. Encourage barbecue rivalry.
  4. Keep calm, dude. The block will party on.

Game face


Last summer, when I was in the midst of feeling like shit, this poor girl went around telling everyone we were having a festival in our backyard. She was desperate to be surrounded by anyone with life left in them, since her mother clearly had none.

She picked a date. She made invitations. She invited about 30 people. I entertained the notion for a few random moments — I desperately wanted to let her see it through — but eventually had to break the news that it just wasn't going to happen. Not only did I then feel like shit, I also felt like an asshole.

This year, I'm functioning on a scale much closer to, well, functional. So I decided to take the advice of a friend who is wiser than her years should allow. It was originally given before Christmas, when I was loathe to supply my children with another mound of presents in the absence of what really mattered: cousins, chaos, and memories.

“Write your own story.”

I’m sure those words have come to me in many forms from many people on many different occasions. But here's a funny thing about advice: it's only good when you're ready to take it. After all, taking good advice usually means doing a lot of hard work — either by yourself or, perhaps worse, through asking people for help. Horrors!

This particular chapter of the story involved organizing a block party to celebrate Neighbour Day, and also to make up for crushing my child's dreams. It sent me knocking on every door — even the scary ones — to get signatures for our permit application, chasing a neighbour down the street in my pyjamas, driving to the strange traffic sign graveyard to pick up road blocks from a short, round, grey-bearded dude named Walter or Wiley, and perhaps most challenging for me, purchasing hot dogs. Yes, I have an issue with nitrates. All I can say is, I’m working on it.

I had absolutely no clue how to put on a block party but, miraculously, it all came together. There was food, a ridiculously small bouncy castle (rented under the guise of it being “Large”), music, street hockey and, of course, a water fight. Children played past their bedtimes. Adults drank until past theirs.

The best part didn't happen until the next day. The doorbell rang. It rang again. I opened the door to see a five-year-old boy standing there, the grandson of the woman I chased in my pjs. 

"Is she here," he asked, poking his head in the door. "Can she come out to play?" Clearly, he had forgotten her name. Or maybe he never even knew it. Kids don't seem to waste time with those kinds of formalities. I remember picking up E from bike camp and having her point out her new BFF, then drawing a blank when I asked for said BFF's name. Kids just want to play, and here was this new child asking mine to come out to do just that.

With that, the Neighbour Day chapter was officially written. Next on the list: summer adventures. Dear God, let it not be a cliff hanger.