Y’all. This pandemic has been a lot. I have tried to be patient, kind, and generous in many regards over the past several months, but I’m currently nursing a gripe that has nothing to do with masks, school reopening, or the fact that my unemployment checks still haven’t arrived. I have been trying to navigate the multi-hour, daily appearances of the sweet neighbor kids with the fact that their parents are conveniently letting their kids play with my kids all day while under the supervision of my paid babysitter.
I am in a weird place of diplomatically wanting to tell my neighbors to show a little appreciation for the free child care they are getting—or at least concern about what their children are doing all day—while not wanting to get the kids involved because it’s not their fault that their parents are mooches.
To be clear, I don’t blame the kids at all, and don’t hold any resentment against them. The kids are really sweet and get along with my kids, and I don’t want to jeopardize their friendships. However, my neighbors, the parents of these sweet kids, are fucking weird and confrontational in ways that make me worry they will call the cops on me if I water my grass for too long. Also, until last fall, they wouldn’t let their kids play with any kids in the neighborhood; now it seems like they are telling their kids to set up shop on my yard or porch until it’s time for dinner.
I, like many folks, am working from home but had the good fortune to find a college student who needed a job. Because the neighbors’ kids are always around, however, when my sitter sets up a craft, game, or activity she counts them in too. If bickering does occur or too many toys and too much noise fills the yard, my sitter has been a steadfast champion. She patiently redirects and gets the kids to help her clean up their messes. I texted her one day from my office in the basement and asked if having the extra kids was too much. She promised they were fine and that it didn’t make her job any tougher. She was having fun! She just laughed at my text that read: Well maybe I am just cranky. If it’s too much I am happy to set boundaries with their parents.
I have checked in with her a few times since the beginning of summer—I will not lose this sitter if the neighbor kids make her feel overworked and underpaid—but she really is chill about it. So I decided to be chill about it too. After all, my kids were socializing, everyone seemed to be having fun, and as weird as my neighbors are, I know they have been really strict about social distancing.
One afternoon I decided to have lunch out back with my two kids; I needed some fresh air between meetings. The neighbors were there and the three-year-old boy said, “My mommy says we are allowed to have popsicles.” I nodded my approval and smiled but he kept staring at me. Finally I said, “That’s great. What kind will you have?” He giggled and then said, “Well, whatever kind you have!” Huh?
When I asked for clarification he told me that he had asked his parents if he and his siblings were allowed to have popsicles later when my kids had them. He didn’t ask permission yesterday despite having one from my freezer, apparently, but was sure to check that box today. He said whenever my kids had treats he was allowed to have some too. His mom was also okay with all of the snacks he and his siblings have been sharing with my kids—from my pantry.
Let’s rewind a bit. I am all for hosting kids. I am happy to share snacks. I have happily fed my kids’ friends unexpected meals. I have had other neighbor kids practically live at my house for days at a time. I love it. But my love comes with knowing this is reciprocated a little or at least acknowledged. I have built a network of friends and community members who all believe in the idea of taking care of each other and that includes taking on each other’s kids. I don’t keep score, and I am a more generous person than this essay is probably making me out to be — but Jesus Christ, people. Collect your kids or throw some Goldfish and gummies our way once in a while. Or when my kids do make their way to your yard to play with your kids, don’t tell them to leave because it gets “too rowdy.” The rowdiness happens at my house too, Karen.
I am assuming that my neighbors are looking out of their windows every so often to make sure their kids are alive, but a little effort to make sure their lack of involvement isn’t a burden on my sitter or our food supply would be lovely. It doesn’t take much to move the needle from being a mooch to being considerate, and in my mind it’s not even about sharing food, though it wouldn’t hurt. All it would take is a check-in. Unfortunately, if I say something I know the parents will isolate their kids again and that’s not fair to their kids or mine.
So until something changes, I will do my best to keep my curmudgeonly attitudes to myself … and be grateful that the neighbor kids have manners, even if their parents don’t.