This is a typical afternoon at my house. It feels like the entire neighborhood congregates outside my door. Some of these kids I actually watch while their parents go somewhere.
A lot of them just come over on their own after school. At least 4 of them don't have parents at home after school time. Some of them have teenage siblings who watch them from the hours of 3pm until 2 am when their mom gets home from work, girls who are hardly more than children themselves, on the cusp of puberty. They come to my house too.
(I have no idea who took this picture, that's me behind the planter.)
It's busy. For two or three hours I don't get anything else done. I fill cups with water, I wipe noses, I answer questions, I mediate disputes, I hand out snacks if I have any. Sometimes we have as many as 6 extra kids who stay for dinner. Yesterday I served everyone tea too, since they all asked, in little tiny tea cups.
It takes a lot of my time. I still try to get dinner started while I keep a watchful eye on what's going on outside but even that is difficult.
It's worth it to me. I'm glad to be the place where my kids and their friends like to play. I'm glad to offer a safe place for the kids who don't have parents around, or whose homes are too unstable to feel safe there too.
Often other families will join us. Other moms or dad's will stop by and hang out for a bit as their kids join the fun. The number of kids around usually tends to attract more kids, and their parents, and this is how we get to know each other in this little community of ours.
We've been here 3 years and not one person has complained.
Well, about two months ago a newly wed couple moved into the apartment directly across the green from us. We watched as they moved their, still in the plastic wrap furniture, into their newly painted white apartment. We watched as they arranged their perfect pier 41 patio furniture. We watched as their childless friends came to visit.
And we didn't really think much of it.
There were the attempts to smile and wave as they went by that were met with mostly glares from the reclusive bride, and then we just ignored them.
Well, last night they decided to come over to talk to us. They came together, her standing at his shoulder and mutely glaring as he did all the talking.
I'll spare you all the details, but here are few of the more amusing things they had to say.
They were so earnest and sure of their position and I choose to believe they were trying to be polite and just couldn't help the condescending tone in which this all was said, which only makes it more funny to me.
Them:We are both working on Masters degrees and we have studying to do and essays to write and it's really hard to concentrate with the sound of all the kids screaming outside. Even when we close our windows we can still hear them. (Their windows were wide open as they said this. And they have a plastic panel in their bed room window where they installed a non regulation air conditioner, so there is no glass, it's essentially open all the time. When last I checked, thin plastic doesn't stop sound like glass does.)
Me:You do realize that you live in a family oriented community right? If you don't want to have to hear the sounds of children playing perhaps you should have rented an apartment in an adult only community.
Them: Yes well, we're fine with the kids playing but it's just so loud. (It isn't anything above normal levels of kid play, except when someone gets hurt.) When we were kids we played outside and were taught to be respectful of other people. We had fun, but we didn't have to be loud.
Me: In my head-snort, snigger, yah right. I'm sure that's how you remember it. How many children have you been around in the past decade?
Them:We even notice that during the traditionally more quiet hours of 4-6 when families are having dinner it's still loud outside and there are still children about.
In my head-Exactly what planet did you say you were from again?
Out loud-Uh, 4-6 is when kids play outside. You know, after they get home from school and before dinner?
Them: The community ordinances specifically state that noise should be kept to an acceptable level.
Me: Yes, define acceptable. Almost everyone else who lives in these apartments has small children. My kids don't make any noise after 9pm and before 7am as the ordinances state, and in fact the only times they do play outside are between 3-6 most days.
Them:Well there is a playground just around the corner, perhaps you could go and supervise them over there instead. Kids should play at the playground don't you think?
Me:Let me get this straight, I should, instead of making dinner while my children and others play safely nearby, I should put my entire life on hold in order to sit and watch them around the corner so it's more convenient for you?
In my head-Yeah, good luck with that.
Out loud-Well, I'll talk to my children about the noise if I notice them being particularly loud, but I can't promise anything past that. There are several local coffee shops that have free internet if it's really a problem for you, or perhaps you could purchase a set of ear phones?
I hope they remember this day when they finally have kids. I so hope they remember.
I wasn't sure I wanted to wish them children out of fear for their children, but I'm willing to believe that they have the capacity to grow up and become less self centered given time and the blessings of offspring.
I imagine a moment 10 years from now when someone else comes to tell them that their little Jimmy is playing outside with his friends too loudly. It makes me laugh.
***Well, the childless couple seems to feel, at least a little, contrite about our conversation yesterday. They just brought over home made chocolate chip cookies "for all the kids". I'm so glad. I wanted to like them. This gives me hope.