Moving is stressful enough without anxiety over neighbors' reception

January 12, 2011 

My family is about to move to a new house. Moving always starts out as a reasonable proposition. "We'll each pack one box a day until everything is ready to go," we say confidently to each other.

Hah! No matter how much we plan, it always comes down to flinging detritus into boxes while the guys with the truck and the muscles snatch them from our hands.

And moving always creates anxiety. Will all of our stuff fit in the new house? Did I remember to give the news carrier our new address? How will we live with that awful harvest gold color in the new bathroom?

But for me, there is another, larger anxiety: Will the neighbors greet us or avoid us? You see, my family consists of me, my wonderful partner of 28 years, and our 12-year-old son. I am preparing myself to be not only the new family in the neighborhood, but also one of the few (maybe the only) lesbian families.

Coming out as a lesbian is a lifelong process. As a teenager, I rehearsed coming out to my parents countless times. I thought that would be it. I’d tell my family, and then go about my life. I didn’t realize then that I would need to either hide who I was or go through the process again with every new person I met: co-workers, parents of our son’s friends, his teachers — and new neighbors.

Some people, when they first meet us, assume I must be the grandmother and my partner the mother to our son. My hair is gray; hers isn’t. In fact, she is merely two years younger than I.

After we say that we are both his mothers, confused looks cross their faces. I can practically see them ticking off the possible relationships between us until — finally — they realize we are lesbians. And then one of two things happens. Either they rush to tell us about their niece or best friend from high school or daughter of someone they work with, who is also — ah, gay. Or they slightly nod their head, tell us it was nice to meet us, and walk away.

After all of these years together, we don’t make any bones about who we are. Nor do we make any fuss about it. We assume that people will figure us out, and they will either care or not care. The next time we meet, they will either greet us or avoid us.

But knowing that your neighbors wish you didn’t live near them is a constant anxiety.

And that’s where it used to end. But now, I’ve noticed a new twist. After the head-nodders get used to us, realize our extreme ordinariness, see our son thriving in school and sports, they become — well, neighborly.

I realized we had reached this point with one neighbor in our current neighborhood when she came over to check on us after that “once in 500 years” rainstorm a few years ago. She had always given us wide berth, and I think had even told her kids not to go into our house.

But there she was, standing on our front porch, comparing tales of flooding with us. And it wasn’t too long after that she was sitting at my kitchen table, comparing child-rearing strategies with me. Our sons, both sports nuts, now play baseball together.

I don’t know how it will go in the new neighborhood. But I’m trying to pack my anxiety into a box that I wouldn’t mind losing on the short trip to our new home in a new neighborhood in Olympia.

I’d much rather concentrate on that awful harvest gold paint.

Chris Madsen, a software developer and writer who moved to Olympia six years ago from Maine, is a member of The Olympian’s Board of Contributors. She can be reached at

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