It takes good neighbors to raise a child

I shut the door and sat down on the front steps. I was not going back inside. Not after the kids' bad manners and fighting at dinner.

"Can I run away to your place?" I called over to my neighbor, who was working in her garden.

Barb looked up from the hole she was digging. "Sure."

"Family life is the pits," I said.

Barb dumped a shovelful of dirt onto the pile next to her hole, and wiped her forehead with her sleeve. Then she pointed to her back stoop.

"Good," I thought. "They wouldn't be able to see me over there."

The cement was warm and pleasant under me. So was the freedom to be dramatic.

"I'm a failure as a mother. My kids are rotten."

"They're teenagers," Barb said. "They're trying to figure out who they are in the world." She leaned her shovel against the house. "How about some chocolate ice cream?"

When I headed home, my stomach was full of ice cream, but my spirit was lighter.

That weekend I remembered the project that was due Monday. I decided to bolster myself with a hot beverage before I started. Barb was out in the yard, watering her newly planted tree. I invited her to join me.

"I've got to get to work," I finally said, picking up my empty cup from the grass. "I've got a great creative idea, and I forgot that I hate to sew."

Pretty soon, Barb was sitting at my kitchen table with the fabric spread out in front of her. I watched for a while and then started sautéing onions for dinner.

"You don't mind that I'm doing this, do you?" Barb asked. She was pinning it.

"Are you kidding?" I said from the stove.

"This is kind of detail-oriented," she said.

"I'm not a detail person," I said, throwing a handful of basil into the sauce to prove my point. "I was already overwhelmed even before I started."

She got up and went down to the basement to iron the almost-finished piece.

"You have to stay for dinner," I yelled after her.

Just then, the back door opened and my 9-year-old son, Luke, walked in, followed by his pal Justin, from up the alley, and Justin's mother.

"Do you like tiramisu?" she surprised me by asking. I noticed she had some bowls in her hand.

"I love it," I said with relief.

"I thought you might." She held the bowls out to me.

Barb came back up with the table runner: a red, yellow, and blue floral, surrounded by a green gingham border.

"It's gorgeous," I said. We draped it over the hutch so we could enjoy looking at it as we ate.

During the meal, the kids asked Barb all about her job and experiences in theater, and were paragons of politeness as they asked to be excused when dinner was over.

"They were engaging conversationalists," Barb said as we dipped our spoons into the tiramisu. "Good hosts," she added, her mouth full.

The deliciousness of that comment was still mingling with the flavor of marscapone cheese when Luke and a group of friends burst in the front door.

"Here's some chocolate-chip cookies the Crosbys sent down," Luke said, handing me a treat from our neighbors who live on the corner.

"It feels like Christmas," I thought as the boys disappeared out the back.

As my teenagers try to figure themselves out, I am figuring myself out, too - and also figuring that I need help to see the good in my family.

"Engaging conversationalists...." I like that. With neighbors like this, I know I will make it as a mother. Why, I might even try another sewing project. Or open a dessert joint!

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