I heard you today. It was a beautiful spring day and everyone had their windows open, and voices just seem to float through the air between our backyards. Plus, you saw me outside (even though you desperately tried to avoid looking at me so you wouldn’t have to say hello, I know you saw me). You knew I was home, and on the deck, and therefore a witness to your not-so-stellar display of parenting skills.
What had you so cranky so early in the morning? Still in your pajamas you were out there putting the sprinkler on the lawn and your kids were calling their kindergarten questions down to you – “why can’t we go down there daddy?” and “how’s it going daddy?”. You told them to stop shouting at you. I was watching you out of the corner of my eye but at that I looked away.
Perhaps you just didn’t want the kids disturbing the peacefulness of the morning for the neighbours? Maybe you hadn’t had a coffee yet – God knows I’ve been there and I don’t have kids so maybe I would be a bit cranky too? I hope not, but I cut you some slack in my mind.
On went the day, and like a good dad you made your kids lunch and ate with them outside. I couldn’t make out the words in all their chatter, but I did hear you tell one of them that they weren’t being nice and therefore you weren’t their friend. Why did you say that? What kind of person lays a guilt trip on their five-year old as a way of teaching manners?
Still, I don’t have little ones and I’m sure it can get frustrating. Maybe this is an ongoing problem with them saying mean things? I don’t know. I just shook my head as I sat enjoying my day off in the sunshine, trying to focus on my book and not your words or your son crying.
Inside you all went, which is not surprising because I never see those kids outside playing even though you have a perfectly good fenced yard and we have a children’s wonderland of trees and creeks behind us. Whatever, not my business.
But remember – those windows were open. Wide, wide open. As much as I wish we all can’t hear what happens in each other’s houses, the fact is – on days like this we can.
Your poor children. It wasn’t even 2pm and they weren’t being rambunctious or even fighting from what I could tell. I have no idea what they said or did, or if you had a terrible headache or some other ailment. There must have been something though (please tell me there was something), because the next thing I heard was you: telling your two small sons to get out of your sight for a while.
Then an afternoon of utter silence. No more playing children. No laughter coming out from the windows. No movement at all, really, until early evening when they must have emerged from purgatory to get ready for dinner. A glorious day in an extremely short childhood, spent…out of their father’s sight for a while.
I hope you enjoyed your day off today. I wonder what you did with those afternoon hours? Years from now when you’re old and your sight is failing and your bones are aching and the nurse wheels you out onto the patio of the nursing home, and you feel that fresh breeze of springtime on your face – will you be comforted and sustained with memories of days like today? Moments not seized and children rejected?
Now I’m kind of glad you try so hard to avoid engaging in conversation – I’m not sure I could look at you right now.
Your neighbour – the one who hears you.