The summer I turned 30, it felt like everything was finally coming together; my little family of five was complete, my career was full of promise and we bought a perfect fixer upper in the city that we could really make our own. I was so happy with my life — it was mine and I choose it. There was one small detail I was forgetting: you don’t choose your neighbors.
From the beginning, we knew something was off with this one neighbor. One time, he leaned over my two-year-old and said, “Is it you I hear crying at seven o’clock every morning?”
“No sir, that would be my teething baby, got any tips?” I joked.
A Sunday afternoon, the kids were outside for the first time all year, after spending a cold Canadian winter playing video games indoors. He yelled out at us, “Control your kids!” He would also do inappropriate things to cars that were left parked in front of his house, like flip their side mirrors backwards or bury them in snow using his snowblower. Unfortunately, we had seen nothing yet.
Summer of 2018, we got a pool, and suddenly his new mission in life was to make ours miserable.
The first time my six-year-old played Marco Polo with the kids next door, he blasted the Lili Allen song “F you.” He played this hateful song for them for 30 minutes straight.
The last day of school, we went for an ultra-quiet celebratory swim just before bed. He proceeded to hit his metal shed repeatedly with a hammer until we got out.
While my ninety-year-old grandma was in the pool, he blew dust in her face from under the fence with his leaf blower.
For a whole month, the minute we stepped outside, he would turn a big speaker towards us that played loud exotic chants. He would then go inside and laugh at us from his window — for hours.
Unsurprisingly, my boys now refer to him as the mean neighbor.
I sought legal counsel through my work. They advised me to document his every move, install 24-hour surveillance and file a complaint. The police informed me that there were similar complaints about him from previous neighbors and told me that mine would be added to the pile. They also came to speak to him. He has since calmed down his antics. But he is still always there, watching us.
While trying to make peace with this experience, I started thinking about what I would want to say to the mean neighbor. And it would be this: Thank you. Thank you for making me stronger and better. You have made me better by opening my eyes to three very important lessons:
A little empathy can make a big difference.
Last year, a family moved in two houses down from us. They immigrated from Moldova with their two adorable toddlers and a third on the way. As they settled in and added a swing set and a trampoline to their yard, I would often hear the children laugh and screech in excitement. I would also hear disagreements and cries. I sat there and watched an exhausted mom try to keep up with her kids, encourage everyone to play nice and keep it together while doing her very best. I felt compelled to seize this opportunity to do for her what I wish was done for me. I didn’t want this mom, or any mom, to feel what I had felt. So, I bought some super soakers for those little boys and marched over there bearing gifts and expressed how happy we are to have their beautiful family in our neighborhood. I told this overwhelmed mother that I know how hard it is to keep three little ones happy, safe and healthy. It gets easier and she is doing a great job. I saw relief in her tired eyes. Thank you, mean neighbor; your lack of empathy has increased mine.
Grief is often disguised as anger.
I read this saying and it got me thinking. I was certainly mad about this situation, but could I possibly be grieving? The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I was grieving for the summers I feel the neighborhood kids deserve. I was grieving the lack of the tolerance and community that neighbors should provide each other. And I was grieving for a society that won’t let kids be kids. Children need a safe place to let loose, be wild and loud. This should be acceptable for short periods of time in the middle of a beautiful summer day. You may need peace and quiet; they need something different. Asking kids to sit and be still 24/7 is not good for their development or mental health. These kids might not be your kids, but you will need them one day. They will be your surgeon, your nurse, your electrician or your city mayor. One day you will need them, but until then, they need you to let them be kids. Thank you mean neighbor; your lack of tolerance has reminded me of the importance of understanding and accepting differences.
Life is a boomerang.
I believed in Karma; what you put out comes back to you. We were never unreasonable. We set many boundaries for our children, in the spirit of respecting others. They can’t play outside in the morning or after dark. We teach them to be kind to everyone, regardless of how they treat us. I never thought to get even with the mean neighbor. I wanted to rise above; but mainly, I simply couldn’t sleep at night knowing my actions were carried out with the intent of hurting someone. Life has already rewarded us. We have dear friends and family that visit and create memories with us. Our home is filled with belly laughs and cuddles. Our work is fulfilling and gives us the means to renovate and transform our house into a home we are proud of. Our health allows us to upkeep our property and stay active. The relationships we’ve built with other families on our street has provided us with a sense of support and safety. From what I see, sitting on my side of the fence, life has not rewarded the mean neighbor this way. Thank you mean neighbor, for reminding me of my blessings.
We can’t choose our neighbors, but we can choose what we focus our energy on. This experience has taught me that the way we treat others is everything. It has taught me that with a little empathy and a little tolerance, we can do a lot of good. No need to look very far; we can start in our own backyard.