Sometimes, you hit the jackpot on neighbors.
Now, don’t get me wrong. SOMETIMES… in some neighborhoods… you might miss the jackpot mark altogether, and you end up with someone on your street, who mixes her Halloween decorations on her front door with a giant Christmas wreath on her mailbox, and who spends the majority of her time standing around in her yard, yelling at invisible people and dancing in her driveway, while the stereo on her car blasts music from the ’80s. She may jump out of the bushes and scare the children, wear her Mary Kay blush in heavy, fluorescent pink circles around her eyeballs, instead of on her cheeks, and forget to put her pants on when she goes outside to stand with the dog while he potties.
We can only presume that he’s a bulldog, and that he’s using your yard as his bathroom.
But then there are those LUCKY PEOPLE who move into a house on the cul de sac, and realize that their neighbors are genuinely WONDERFUL people. They’re always home when you need to borrow a stick of butter. They share their essential oils with you, invite you to their driveway for impromptu pizza parties, offer to pray for you when you need it the most, and never fail to let your teenage son raid their stash of costumes for every high school dress-up day that rolls around.
When we built our house nine years ago, we quickly learned that we were one of those lucky families who hit the Great Neighbors Jackpot. Because the family that lives next door to our house? They love Jesus and they love us, and we love them in return.
Their youngest son is the boy’s best friend.
Their middle son, who just recently graduated from college, is Thing 2’s best friend. Never mind the age difference, because Thing 2 certainly doesn’t. It has never occurred to him as WEIRD to have a BFF who is currently in his early twenties.
That middle son’s name is Nathan, and he’s an artist. He even has a real art degree from a real college. AND… he has a heart for kids, so he never complains about his best friend being a five-year-old.
Back in late August… the week before school started… when all the trees still had their leaves and the grass was green… Nathan invited Thing 2 to come over for an art project. It goes without saying that this invitation was exactly as exciting as CHRISTMAS MORNING to our younger son. He only asked me thirty-seven times every ten minutes… all day long… if it was TIME TO PAINT WITH NAFFAN YET.
I told him that he would paint with Naffan at 6:00 that evening. It was basically impossible to steer his young mind to other things throughout that day, because WHY IS THIS DAY MOVING SO SLOWLY? WHY CAN’T PAINTING TIME WITH NAFFAN BE RIGHT NOW?!
I’m not sure that Nathan has ever had an art student who showed more enthusiasm for a project than Thing 2 did that evening. He was ON FIRE to attend his private art lesson…
… which was outside in the yard. Nathan has lived next door to Thing 2 long enough to understand that the yard is really THE ONLY PLACE to give that five-year-old painting lessons. Because the mess of an indoor class with Thing 2? I shiver, just thinking about it.
Nathan let Thing 2 mix as many colors together as he wanted. Real artists are like that. They know that you have to mix some colors that don’t match sometimes, even though my Type A personality really just likes to keep all the colors separate. That trait of mine… combined with the fact that I cannot — UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES — handle glitter is why I didn’t become an art teacher.
Oh. And because I have exactly zero-point-negative-eight pieces of artistic talent on my DNA strands. THAT was the other reason I didn’t get an art degree of my own.
We also signed up for the EXTENDED art class that night, which included after-class entertainment. I hear it was just a private invitation to neighbors only, so I’m sorry if you don’t receive this first class treatment in your art class.
The boys hauled out Nathan’s old four-wheel-drive tricycle from years gone by…
… and then that college graduate introduced our boy to the beauty of GENUINE WATER BALLOONS. Apparently, artists don’t mind the yard being litter with fourteen trillion pieces of popped balloons quite like a mother does.
I imagine Nathan doesn’t mind a decent glitter mess, either.
… fast forward to two weeks ago.
The boy has always had a giant Star Wars mural on his bedroom wall, which our friend, Trina, painted. Trina is a fantastic artist. She did the mural for the boy when he was an eight-year-old, and I adore it. Shortly after Trina painted it, she moved across the continent to basically STINKING CANADA. This helps insure that her coming back to Small Town, USA to paint a second mural for Thing 2 was never going to become a reality.
We had to live with the fact that our second son would always live without a great mural on his bedroom wall, too. In my heart, I believed that it would just be too difficult to find anyone who could pull off a mural as well as the one Trina had done, and I didn’t want to hire someone to simply slop out a sub-par, mediocre mural. We decided that Thing 2’s bedroom would be mural-less…
… until that Nathan boy graduated from college, because lo! I looked at him after that art lesson and knew in my heart that he was absolutely the right artist to pull off a second mural at our house. I knew that he could do one that was every single bit as fantastic as what Trina had painted for us, years ago.
So, over the course of three days… while I was at work and Bible study and fetching groceries… Nathan climbed on a step stool in Thing 2’s bedroom and pulled off a Calvin and Hobbes mural.
The boy was a Star Wars fanatic when he was eight years old, so it was a no-brainer when it came time to decide on WHAT to paint on his bedroom wall. Star Wars ages well with a boy, because honestly? Do boys even EVER outgrow Star Wars??!! No. No, they do not. A Star Wars mural would stand the test of time, so it was perfect. And Thing 2? Although he adores trains and monster trucks, I wanted something DIFFERENT for him. I wanted something that he wouldn’t mind having on his bedroom wall when he’s fourteen. Somehow, Thomas the Train wasn’t filling that bill for us.
And then Hubs and I both knew… straight down in the bottoms of our hearts… what it would be.
Calvin and Hobbes.
Because Thing 2 IS Calvin.
Hubs and I almost regret the simple fact that we didn’t actually NAME HIM Calvin, after the famous comic strips.
I didn’t get any snapshots of the painting in progress, because Nathan painted while we weren’t home. But the few times we saw him working on it, he made it look downright, stinking EASY. Do you know what I make look easy? Eating pizza. I can’t make painting something look easy AT ALL. I would have been nothing but a hot mess on that step ladder. I would have had more paint on the floor than on the mural, and I would have been crying enormous tears of I CAN’T DO THIS! I CANNOT PAINT THIS THING AT ALL, as I prayed for Jesus’ return before my clients wanted that thing finished.
I couldn’t possibly be any happier with it, because I have all the FEEL GOOD FEELS over that second mural. It depicts Thing 2’s personality perfectly: full of life and orneriness, and he will always be the one to take the hills at a break-your-neck-in-half speed in a wagon… without a helmet.
So… that’s a shout-out to our neighbor boy, Naffan. We really did hit the neighbor jackpot when we moved in next door to his sweet family.
Y’all have a happy Monday evening.