We have a new family living in the neighbourhood. They are only a couple of houses away. They have a son just six months younger than Harry, a baby girl, and because they are a blended family, a seventeen year old son too.
On the face of it, this should be great, because there aren't a huge number of young kids in the immediate area, and a mom my own age within spitting distance is a luxury I've never had.
However, it's been such a nightmare that I am actively wishing for them to split up (which they are always on the verge of doing, it would seem) so that they will move away and leave us in peace.
We have to interact with them at the bus stop every morning. And it's becoming a part of the day I dread. Every morning, they come trekking down the road. Surly, foul-mouthed teenager walks 20 feet in front of the rest of them (fair enough, she's his stepmother and he's got issues, this guy). She's pushing the baby in the stroller. She's got her dog on a leash. She should have the 5 year old on one too, frankly.
The damn dog barks at me as I'm walking down my own driveway. Some of the kids I care for are frightened of largish barking dogs (hey, I used to be, too). The teenager curses and swears so much I've occasionally had to keep my kids back for fear of what they'll repeat to their parents later. The five year old is totally out of control; he's a head-butter and a shoe-kicker and a rock thrower. And the mom's eyes are always either red from crying or still filled with tears.
The first time she showed up crying I did what any normal, rational neighbour would do in such a situation - I asked if everything was OK. And thus, she became for that morning and for all time my Over-Sharing Neighbour (OSN).
OSN tells me everything. EVERYTHING. She has screaming fights with her husband and her stepson on a daily basis. Her finances are a mess. She has no time to herself. I honestly can't tell if she's an abused wife or a martyr or just really, really unhappy and needing to vent. (I do know that her first marriage ended because of abuse. I don't know her last name, but I know that. So do all the kids who were within earshot that morning during the first week of school. OY.)
I do know that bringing demand letters from Revenue Canada to the bus stop so you can show them to the neighbour you only met two months ago is not only crossing the line, it's throwing up on it, or something.
I don't encourage her, either. I do a lot of non-committal grunting. I don't exchange confidences in return. I never ask her how she's doing anymore - not even in the standard greeting style of "morning, how's things?" Because if I ask, she'll tell me, and I don't want to know.
A common complaint from her is that her son - the five year old - doesn't listen to her. Ever. He is one of those kids that makes me long for the days when it was completely acceptable for any parent to mete out a good ol' fashioned roaring on anyone's children. (Remember those? I do. We couldn't get away with anything in my small neighbourhood - someone was always watching and everyone knew everyone else). He's just awful, this kid. He's rough. He's argumentative. He's disrespectful and rude and frankly a troublemaker, and when the younger kids I care for are watching his every move with their wide eyes and sponge-like brains I could scream, because I make every effort to provide a positive environment for these children and every. damn. morning. he undermines that. While she ineffectually says in this quiet, defeated voice "stop. don't. why won't you listen?" and other such foolishness that doesn't work.
This morning it came to a head.
The bus stop is near a deep, overgrown ditch - more like a small gully, really. There is broken glass down there, and cigarette butts, and god knows what else, all hidden under the bracken. It's wet, and messy, and the kids are not allowed to play in it. Period. They all know this.
Today, he kept waiting until his mom was not watching him and then stepping closer and closer to The Forbidden Gully of Mystery & Destruction (TM). She was busy telling me about her latest fight with her husband and had her back to him... he seized the moment and bolted for the ditch, with all the other kids watching avidly to see if they could go, too.
I trotted out my Daycare Lady Who Takes No Shit voice and really shouted at him to get out of that ditch RIGHT NOW. He skidded to a halt and whirled around in total disbelief. OSN said "oh, thank you. He just won't listen to me." I apologized for yelling at her kid - because that's what we do in these politically-correct times - and she told me to go ahead, because he needs to know that people other than her find his behaviour unacceptable.
So then the little jeezer walks toward me and kicks one of his sneakers off. At me. Um, no. Just NO. Out came Daycare Lady again. I dropped to his level right away and took his arm. "Listen," I said, "you can't behave like that at the bus stop. All of these little kids are watching you big kids to see what they should be doing. So when you do things like that, they learn to do the wrong thing, and that makes my job harder. I need you to behave. Listen to your mother, and stop teaching the little kids to misbehave. Now put on your shoe."
On went the shoe. The perpetual let's-see-what-I-can-get-away-with smirk was gone. He stood quietly until the bus came and got on board with nary a whimper.
OSN then pinned me down and told me that last night, they were at Subway and he took it into his head to steal the money out of the tip jar. "Six times I had to tell him to leave it alone," she said indignantly, "and the staff never said a word!"
Here's the thing - as trite and overused a trope as it is, I *do* think it takes a village to raise a child. We all have a responsibility to let the kiddos know that the adults in their lives are there for them; there to help and guide. There are lots of adults my kids know who can and do bring unique and valuable interactions. I would hope that these same adults, who love my kids and are cherished in return, would feel comfortable correcting their behaviour if they were doing something obviously out of line - like stealing.
It should be a team effort. For the good of us all, we need to be more involved in the lives of kids. Just because they are below the sight line shouldn't mean we turn a blind eye.
That said, OSN needs to try some new strategies for dealing with her son. The examples in this post are only two of dozens; he really has no respect for her at all, and since he's only five that is going to get much, much worse. And I understand too that he lives in a high-stress environment where yelling, screaming, and crying is the norm. But does that give either one of them a free pass? Does she get to abrogate her responsibilities as a mom because he's difficult? Does he get to act like a deranged chimpanzee because he's had a rough life?
No, and no again. Six times to get him to stop stealing? No. One time. ONE. (Assuming that as a school-aged child he should even need to be told that stealing is wrong. But OK.) Do it again? Gone. In the car. You don't get six warnings. It's no bloody wonder he doesn't listen to her, why should he? There are no consequences.
So. This is the family that moved in. They are rude, they are loud, they have no respect for property or other people, they have no boundaries when discussing their personal lives and really, when you get right down to it, no boundaries at all.
Can you see why I can't wait for them to leave?
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