The night of Nick’s birthday party, I was definitely NOT thinking of teamwork with our neighbors across the empty lot. (That was the night Chris and the boys discovered something astonishing about each other: One Surprising Strategy to Fight Hostess Anxiety, if you missed it.)
So here are three thoughts about how the night went.
1. Don’t assume your neighbors hate you.
These neighbors across the lot, a couple with two boys, helped with the community garden in the past. The parents speak very little English, and after a while they quit coming. I was never sure why they quit helping in the garden. I worried about why they quit.
Did we upset them? Why weren’t they coming anymore? We didn’t know.
The other night after we finished off the chicken tacos and dessert, we gave Nick his birthday gift.
Ever seen a water rocket? You add a few inches of water to a plastic bottle, then flip it onto a launch pad. Then, you pump air into the bottle through a plastic tube with a bicycle pump. If you do everything just right, the bottle launches off the pad and soars 90 feet in the air.
Well, you guessed it. We didn’t do everything just right on the first couple of launches.
We had the six foot launch first, where the rocket just popped off the pad and floated lazily into the grass.
“The connection is too loose,” Norrell suggested. So Nick tightened the connection.
Then we had the “It won’t launch no matter how hard we pump the bicycle pump” attempt. Nick pumped like crazy. Norrell took over. Chris tried. Nothing.
By this point, the neighbor boy across the vacant lot wandered in. I welcomed him to stay and watch, confident that we would have a real launch soon. Of course, it never occurred to me that we might need this boy’s teamwork.
2. Don’t assume your neighbors lack Skills.
Finally, with the rocket still refusing to launch, Norrell advised Nick to loosen the connection.
About the same time, Marnell pulled out his air compressor hose. The only detail to note about this? The hose was slightly short, and so they had to pull the launch pad in closer to the trees. Well, the next launch was nothing short of spectacular. The bottle rocket shot up through the trees so fast I missed snapping a photo.
Finally, I caught the event on camera on the next launch. The rocket shot through the air, blasting up through the leaves of the trees.
Then something ominous happened: a plastic fin fluttered to earth.
Then… nothing. The rocket did not return.
After squinting and straining our eyes, we finally spotted it. A branch had captured the bottle rocket in the very crown of the tree, kissing the sky. Marnell collected a few discs from his disc golfing collection, and began whirling them up at the rocket, hoping to dislodge it. But it was a long shot, literally, and we made no progress.
Well, that neighbor boy.
“My dad has a long ladder,” he said.
Soon, we had a twenty foot wooden ladder (40 foot when extended) propped against the culprit tree, with a Hispanic man with a limited English vocabulary comfortably balanced on its top. Talk about teamwork among neighbors when there is a language barrier! Much pointing and attempted Spanish conversation ensued.
It soon became clear that we were a long way off from the rocket, even with the ladder. My hope faded.
3. Expect teamwork to save the day!
Marnell and Norrell kept shouting encouragement up the ladder, and people kept pointing, and finally, the neighbor on the ladder spotted the bottle. However, even with a plastic extension rod, he could not reach it.
Finally, Marnell pulled out a roll of duct tape and a length of PVC. He duct taped the PVC to the plastic extension rod. He passed this contraption up to the neighbor and hurrah! The rocket fluttered out of the crown of the tree.
Side note: how many times and in how many strange scenarios do you think duct tape has saved the day?
But it wasn’t just duct tape that saved the day. Focused teamwork by a handful of people with unique talents and possessions made the difference.
Sometimes we think giving people things is the best thing we can do for them. Often, just the opposite is true. I think I first learned this from the book When Helping Hurts. Instead, a superior strategy is to ask them for help. Instead of taking cookies to your neighbors (although that rarely hurts!) ask them what their talents are, and what they like to do.
Asking people for help fosters a relationship more quickly than simple charity. By asking them for help, we show that we see them. Our ears hear them. We are listening. We know they have value.
It’s almost always a shock to find out how much a neighbor has to offer. I’ll never forget the day I asked a neighbor to help move a bed frame upstairs. It was one of the funniest days of my life. You might not have a bed frame to move or a rocket in your tree right now. But still you can find out the strong points of the unexpected people in your life.
(And the water rockets are cool too! Get your own water rocket! Just avoid trees if possible.)
The more you join in with people in their joys and sorrows, the nearer and dearer they become to you.Samuel Clemens
We are at our annual Hoover family gathering this weekend, so I thought I would post Saturday morning instead of Saturday evening. I also think it might work better generally, since we are less busy Saturday morning than Saturday evening. But…what do you think? Don’t forget, you can always read it in the evening, even if it arrives in the morning!
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Have a great Saturday! And don’t forget to try teamwork with the hidden talent all around you!