Parenting

When A Neighbor Threatens Your Child

I had to phone the police last night and have an officer come to my house.  My kids were outside, talking to a friend of theirs who lives just around the corner, and you can see his back yard from our street.  They stood on the sidewalk across the street talking to their friend, until the neighbor (I use this term lightly) who lives across the street came outside and (per their reporting, I didn’t hear it personally) yelled the following at my kids:

‘You kids get the fuck out of here or I’ll cut your fucking ears off.’

Now, one of my kids can make up some pretty fanciful stories.  He was the first to ‘report’ this.  I was concerned but I’ve learned to take what he says with a grain of salt.  Then my other child came in and I asked him what happened, without the other child present, and got the same story….this concerned me more.  Then I went outside and two friends of my kids also related (without the f-bombs) what had been said.  That was good enough for me. I called the police and reported it, and they came by to make an inquiry.

The end result of this incident at least is that the complaint is on record. I could file charges, formally, and there would be a court date. But as I told the officer who came to the house – yes, one of the boys was throwing rocks across the street last summer and managed to hit his truck, though there was no real damage (I told him this before he spoke with the neighbor as well, and the neighbor apparently brought this up, but denied his threat to my kids). When this happened (eight months ago) he came out of his house and screamed at my kids, and then yelled at me as well, telling me to ‘get control of my kids’ and it being a ‘nice way to come into the neighborhood’. I told him then I didn’t appreciate being spoken to that way, and then even had my son apologize, and thought it was a ‘bygone’…I’ve have spoken to him outside when we were both clearing snow from our driveways this winter. I had thought that whatever animosity he had toward me or my kids was gone, so this time I’ll not push it further, but if it happens again….I will pursue it with charges.

I grew up in a place a little more ‘rural’ than where I live now. People brought food when they knew someone was sick or injured. People checked in and offered condolences when someone passed away.  People ran out of their houses if a child fell off their bike to see if they could help, whether it was their kid or not.  In all my childhood years, I never once recall hearing one of the other adults on the road threatening to cut a body part off a child for anything they did.  Things got damaged around the neighborhood, sure, and parents apologized for their kids, spoke to their kids about their behaviors, and grown ups discussed it, and it worked out.  People behaved like grown ups, and they certainly didn’t threaten children who were standing on a public sidewalk talking to one of their friends. Sure, you can ask them to move along, or take the conversation elsewhere, and speak to the parent if it continues, but threatening to cut off their ears? I don’t care if my children are pissing on your front steps, you don’t threaten bodily injury to a seven and eight year old, whether you mean it or not. ‘I’ll cut your fucking ears off’ is not a figure of speech. it’s a threat of harm, and in many places it’s considered battery, even if you don’t touch the child/person.

I have lived in this town now for 12 years.  In the eight years I lived in my former home, before we purchased one of our own, I got to know many of the neighbors pretty well, and they are some of the nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.  I trust them with the safety and well-being of my kids, and I believe they trust me with the same for their kids.  We share our kids’ birthdays and milestone events with each other, we let them run amok in someone’s yard while we sit down and crack open a bottle of wine.  Even moving 3/4 of a mile away hasn’t changed this.  Through them I’ve met a lot of people. I know business owners in town, I know store clerks and barbers and waitresses and hardware store clerks. I know the chief of police and a few officers in town also, and the chief’s wife, as well as many other parents and non parents. I see groups of teens roaming the streets at night unsupervised, and am sure they pull pranks and cause mischief as teens do. Some of them flattened tires and rang doorbells on us at the old house.  I get the frustration there.  It’s annoying, stupid, pointless behavior. I have every bit of respect for someone not wanting kids on their property for fear of damage that kids, especially really hyperactive kids like mine who don’t have a ton of impulse control, and even with the ‘history’ there of them hitting his truck with a rock thrown across the street, whether there was damage or not. Had this neighbor walked out on his porch and yelled ‘get away from my house’….I wouldn’t bat an eyelash. I’d tell my kids ‘Just avoid him and his yard and his driveway and you’ll be fine.’

But to threaten to cut my kids’ ears off? I draw a line there.

Thankfully, so does the local law enforcement.  Even if it’s ‘their word against his’….even if it’s kind of ridiculous to tell my kids to ‘avoid part of the sidewalk’ when it’s a public sidewalk….even if we are a same sex couple with kids and many people don’t like/understand/have any tolerance and understand of that kind of family…..it was taken seriously enough to come by and get a statement, and talk to the other party involved.

Why did I avoid pressing charges now? Well, because I’m not a vindictive person.  The ‘warning’ is there for him that I do take it seriously and won’t just let it slide.  I hope he also realizes that should it ever happen again, I’ll see him in court for harassment.

I do my best to be a good neighbor, and a good person. Everyone has bad days, everyone makes bad decisions and reacts before they think. I get it.

But don’t threaten my kids again…ever.

That’s when you’ll find out how much of a asshole I really can be.

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Miscellaneous

A Letter To My Older Self

Many times I have heard people ask someone the question ‘If you could write a letter to your younger self, what would you say?’ Even my therapist has asked me this question.  My letter would be simple:

Enjoy your life as much as you can, you only have one.

Choose wisely and truly who you love, and don’t leave heartache along the way to finding that.

I’ve even seen this posted on Facebook, challenging people to write or say something to their younger selves.

I try to not live in a world of regrets, wishing I could go back in time and change anything. I try to live in the present, conscious and aware of the past, and preparing for the future.  I realize that to go back in time and ‘fix’ anything, unless you are Sherman and Mr. Peabody, or H.G. Wells, is not a possibility.

I cannot, therefore, really place much stock in what I would say to my younger self.  That person is someone that I no longer am.  That person made choices and mistakes. He tried to learn from them, and to not repeat them, but could not repair them once they had been made. It’s all part of growing and living.  That person is someone I cannot change, and wouldn’t try. That person made me who I am today.

I can, however, say a lot to my ‘older self’, and still see it come to fruition.  I can set it aside and read it 30, 35, 40 years from now and follow my own advice. That person may need some guidance at the time through tough situations and to be able to recall lessons he learned in life that he may have forgotten along the way. That person is someone I am yet to become.

I have aging parents. They are both 82 years old.  Their bodies are failing them more and more over time.  My dad had a stroke in 2006, following the loss of his second wife a year before, and has resided in an assisted living facility in the dementia unit ever since. He can manage some of his self-care, but cannot live alone any longer, and some of his needs are more than his two sons can take care of for him. He has gone through bouts of depression and aggression over time when he is refusing to take his medication, and lashes out at the staff and other residents, physically and verbally.  He doesn’t get out much, was never much of a checkers person, doesn’t read as a hobby, and has very little to enjoy at this stage of life.  He goes through phases of hating where he is and simply accepting where he is.  He never once has progressed to liking where he is.

My mother lives on her own still in the house I grew up in.  She has seen her five siblings pass on before her as well as her parents.  Many of her long-time friends have also passed away.  She has wanted to live independently still, yet she cannot stand long enough to make a meal for herself (she buys pre-cooked and microwavable foods), she cannot kneel down to wash a floor, she has trouble with stairs, cannot shovel snow, etc., etc., etc.  So she is independent with a lot of assistance. My brother and I say ‘It takes a village to keep her independent’, and it’s true.   She needs a lot of assistance to stay ‘independent.’

I saw my grandparents age and pass, and have seen my own parents age to the point of frailty and struggle.  I know it’s not going to get better for them before they also pass…it will likely get even worse….perhaps far worse.  My dad will likely not know me at the end, and perhaps my mother will get there too.  There is time to get to know their young grandchildren, but they most likely won’t be here for or simply not be able to participate in their teen accomplishments and young adult lives.

I will one day be there myself.  With luck, another 35 – 40 years or more will pass for me before I pass on.

I have the ability to influence the rest of those years, and to influence the stage I will get to eventually to a very large degree.  At that time, I hope to look back on what I witnessed with my grandparents and my parents, and remember what it was like for me to see it.

If I were to write a letter to my older self, to be reviewed years from now, here is what I would want my older self to know:

Don’t regret the things you can no longer do.  Life is full of possibilities, no matter what age you are.  So often in our younger days we wish we had time to do this or that, and now you do have the time.  Try something new every day. Learn a song in Italian and sing it even if there’s no one listening.  Eat a food you never imagined you would. Watch a documentary to learn about something you never knew before.  Read a book you never thought you’d get through.  Talk to a complete stranger.  Smile 100 times in one day.  Always look for things you can do, rather than dwell upon the things you can’t do now.  If you do, life will always be a series of possibilities rather than a set of failures.

Your children never outgrow their need for you, it simply becomes a different kind of need. They may not need you as a parent; to tell them how to tie their shoes and clean their wounds and wipe their tears away and give them advice. But it’s just as important and valuable to be someone they can count on to love them unconditionally throughout their entire lives.  They will always be your child, no matter how old they grow….but they become adults eventually.  One day you have to stop ‘parenting’ them, but you never have to stop loving them.

Help is so hard to ask for, because you feel it makes you vulnerable, and you’ve never been comfortable with that.  Everyone needs help now and again.  It doesn’t make you weak.  Knowing your limitations and doing something to overcome them, even with the assistance of another, is a strength in and of itself. 

Just as it’s hard to age, it’s hard to watch your parents age.  Your children do not wish to see you suffering or going without.  Be honest with them and with yourself about your needs.  When you simply try to convince them you don’t need help, you are not sparing them anything……you are only making it more difficult for them in watching you struggle.

Don’t dwell upon the things you feel you did ‘wrong’ in life.  No matter how hard you fell, no matter how badly you think you failed…..you made it through…and rose above it. Be proud of yourself. Be grateful that you had the courage and the strength always to get through it all, no matter how difficult it was. You didn’t fail…you stumbled, and you picked yourself up and kept going.  

Tell your children everything you wish them to know, no matter how hard it is to say, while you still can.  One day they won’t have you to talk to, whereas your mind may not be as sharp as it once was, and they will be left wondering about a great many things in life.  

Love yourself. Until your very last breath you are a teacher, a role model and an example for your children, no matter how old they get, and for others.

These are the things I hope to remind myself of when I am older. I can always add to the list as I live my life.  Unlike the notion of going back to my youth and trying to fix the mistakes I made along the way, which is not possible, I can try to avoid making certain mistakes in the future.

I cannot say that I will be able to follow all the above advice to myself when I’m at the age to need it.

I do hope that I will try.

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Parenting

My Collection Of Hats

I have a collection of hats.

I wear them all the time.

They aren’t sorted by color, or size, or even style.  I don’t choose which one I put on by the clothes I’m wearing, or the weather outside.  I choose them out of necessity.

Sometimes I put on my thinking cap to figure out how to make a rainy day fun, or explain homework in a different way so that they understand it a little better.

A few times a day I put on my chefs cap and fix snacks, or lunches, or dinners that aren’t full of sugar and calories and might just do the kids some good to eat them, while still remembering that an occasional item of ‘junk’ isn’t going to hurt them.

My chauffeur’s cap gets used when someone forgets that there’s a project due at school the next day and they need glue and we don’t have it, or when there’s a cough that’s going to keep them awake and we’re fresh out of medicine for that.

The maid’s cap gets worn daily, cleaning up near tornado-level destruction and socks left in random places around the house that make no sense and putting the endless piles of laundry through the washer and dryer or vacuuming up the forgotten crumbs and bits of paper that make their way to the floor and lay there until I come along.

When there’s a tumble in the driveway that results in a scrape, I put on the nurses cap and clean out the wound.  Then I immediately change to the clown hat, whereas nothing dries up tears like laughter.

The hard-hat I reserve for special occasions when I step into the middle of a conflict to act as a negotiator.  That one gets a lot of use.  Sometimes the thinking cap compliments it nicely.

Then there’s the police cap when I need to figure out who broke something and no one wants to admit to being the guilty party.

The safari hat comes out when the kids forget that there’s a whole world outside to explore, right in their own back yard, and need a guide to point them in the right direction, rather than sitting in front of the t.v. all day.

The mortar board and tassel get reserved for those extra tough questions like ‘why do I have to go to bed right now’ and ‘how come I can’t have ice cream for breakfast every day?’

The wizard cap gets tossed up onto my head when there’s a broken toy or a missing part to something and I fix the toy or make the toy work again by magical means.

The pointy cap that says ‘Dunce’ on it is for when I make a not so good parenting choice or do something that shows the kids that despite all the powers I possess, I have flaws, and I’m only human.

The soldier’s hat comes out when they seem to want to argue everything I tell them and not do their homework or take a bath and I need to find the strength to just get through that moment and on to the next one.

The crown comes in handy when they need to understand that I’m the boss, first and foremost, and what I say goes.

I have a collection of hats.  They are not fancy, nor colorful, nor anything special to look at. They all have one very special characteristic in common though: They are all invisible. No one sees them, and I don’t regularly get complimented on them. You never even know when I switch from one to the other most days, I just do it without thinking. Some days I only wear one or two of them. Some days I have to pile them all on top of my head and use them all at once.

My hats are not rare, nor do they ever wear out despite all the use they get.

I wear them all not because they all fit just right or because I feel like putting them on day in and day out, but because I choose to.

I have them all because I am a parent, and wearing my entire collection of hats is what the job requires.

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Miscellaneous

A Shared Burden Weighs Less Upon A Troubled Soul

I have friends now that I’ve known for most of my life….since I was five years of age.  Even younger than that.  True, we have gone through periods of time where we’ve fallen out of touch, but then picked up again where we left off some time later, and it’s as if not a moment has passed.  That is the way I feel about most of my friendships; that they go through cycles of contact and the ‘down time’ is not an indication that the friendship is suffering or any less meaningful, it just means, to me, that a fork in the road cropped up, we parted company, and the road will lead us to intersect once again down the line.

One of my favorite ‘resurgence of friendship’ stories involves my buddy Scott.  I had plans for dinner with another friend who asked if he could bring a buddy along, and of course I agreed.  As we sat and laughed and joked and talked, this friend, Scott, made a reference to Little Falls School. I said, ‘That was my elementary school…you went there as well?’ – Ten seconds later we realized we’d attended at the same time, in the same class….and known each other as children.  It was an amazing moment to reconnect with someone I’d not seen for 20 years….and to realize that despite the passage of time we were still just as compatible as friends as we’d ever been, even as adults.  We are still friends to this day, even after another period of lapse in contact, but now, via the miracle of social media, are in regular contact or at least know what’s going on with the other one.

Scott is one of the people I’ve known since kindergarten and still maintain a friendship with.  There are several others.  Certainly we are all older…some have kids, some not, some are married, some divorced….but despite the highs and lows we’ve experienced in life, we still have common ground, common interests, and plenty to talk about.  We’ve had months and months of no contact, and then chatter away as if no time had passed at all. It’s comforting, to me, to still maintain friendships with people who have known me for most of my life, and still wish to be friends.  People who have changed and grown and transformed and reinvented themselves time and time again, and yet at their very core they are still people who I am happy and honored to say are my friends.

I’ve worked very hard over time to shed certain baggage and character traits that I no longer wish to have in my life.  In ways I’ve wanted to rid myself of a me that I used to be and didn’t wish to be any longer.  I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to maintain certain friendships over time that after seeing me at both my best and at my worst they are still a fixture in my life.

I’ve also worked very hard to even be able to “let” my friends see me at my worst.  To drop my guard even 50% and be my often-times cranky, unreasonable, wounded self and be okay with putting that out there.  To say the difficult things and be open and honest and not cap off the story with some pithy, sarcasm laced punch line. Sometimes there is no punch line.  Not everything’s a joke.  Sometimes nothing at all is and it’s so hard to say it and put yourself in a circle of people who can either support you or stone you.  Sometimes it just feels easier to find an empty chair in an empty room and just sit there and keep your burdens to yourself.  It may feel easier, or even just ‘safer’.  It rarely accomplishes anything other than keeping you stuck under your own dark cloud.

Sharing my burdens with others has not been easy for me to do, for a variety of reasons.  It’s a work in progress, and I am a complete novice at it.  It has more to do with me not being comfortable with it than a lack of faith in my friends and my friendships. I am truly blessed to know the people I know, and from those people be able to say that I know others who, without a doubt, would have my back day and night, and always will.  Those are the kinds of friendships you hold the closest and the dearest…and the ones you need to give to as well as take from.  That doesn’t mean just give the good, either…..you have to give them the bad too, and trust that they are still going to be there for you, right or wrong, light or dark.  These are the best friends to have.  Not those who have the most or look the best. Friends that you can, even if you don’t usually, say anything to…the ones that you can be yourself with, whomever that is, and they are still your friend.  Those are the most valuable and the most important friends of all.

I keep telling myself that a shared burden weighs less upon a troubled soul.  I keep working to believe in it more fully and apply it to my life. I keep seeking other souls that I can share burdens with, and know that they will help me carry the load.  I know how important it is to be grateful, every day, that I have friends like this.

I only hope that I am a friend like this, too……and that other troubled souls feel comfortable sharing their burdens with me.

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