Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Being Held Liable For Being Neighborly

The neighbor kids keep coming over and driving us crazy and I'm not sure what to do about it.

The three kids are, I'm guessing, about 12, 8 and 6. Eldest is a boy, the others are girls. When we moved into the house four years ago, as we were unloading things, they (along with a few other neighborhood kids) came over with cookies and welcomed us. The KIDS did. NOT the parents. As a matter of fact, I've never actually MET my adult neighbors. At this point, that's just as much of a failing on my part as it is on theirs, but when we first moved in - your kids come over, but you don't? Bizarre.

Then, a month or so after we moved in, we were having a party. BBQ in the yard, possibly for Drake's first birthday, I'm not sure. That or a housewarming. At any rate, the neighbor kids came over (then they would have been about 2, 4 and 8, mind you) BY THEMSELVES to see if they could play at the party. We told them to ask their parents and to tell their parents they were welcome to come over for a burger or something, figured it would be a good time to meet them. The kids ran home, then came back - still parentless - and said they could come to the party but their cousins were over, could the cousins come too? I said sure, thinking one or two more kids wouldn't be a big deal, right? They come back with like FOURTEEN KIDS or something ridiculous. Ages ranging from 2 years to about 14 years old. STILL NO ADULTS. And the neighbor kids were polite but their cousins? Rude as HELL. I was, frankly, shocked. And had no idea how to handle it. Who sends a swarm of kids to the new neighbor's house when they've never even come over to meet them or welcome them to the neighborhood? (And who lets their 2 and 4 year olds play outside alone unsupervised all the time??)

Then for a while I was convinced they were living in a drug house because there were tons of people coming in and out at all hours of the night and day, and cars leaving for short periods of time and then coming back off and on all day. But that died down after a year or two.

The kids have always been nice and polite. Aside from the party incident, they've come over a time or two for random things (school sales and such) over the years. When we see the parents out front they will wave and say hi, but that's it.

Now, for some reason this summer, the kids are coming over all the time.

It started in the late spring when the two girls started coming over and asking if they could play in our yard. We have a small yard with a small swingset and a couple toddler slides. We also have two dogs and we're not always diligent about cleaning up the poop, and we tend to leave yard toys out (like our toddler wagon and the plastic outdoor cars and the sandbox with no sand and so on) because we're lazy.

When they first asked, I was torn because I don't want to be the mean neighbor who gets her house egged and TP'd...but I also don't want to be the one who is held liable or sued if one of the kids gets hurt. (And then I am saddened that we live in a world where you can't just be NICE, you have to worry about being sued for being nice, but that's a whole other rant I think.) I wasn't sure I wanted to set a precedent for it, but at the same time I wasn't sure exactly how to say no or if I wanted to be the type of person who says no to letting kids have fun. Their yard is even smaller than ours (it's full of a deck and an oversized garage, and what little 'yard' is left seems to be just a dirt pit). So I let them. And they would come over every week or so, ask to play, play for a little bit, and then go home.

Then, naturally, my kids started wanting to go outside and play with the neighbors. And regardless of whether or not the neighbors let THEIR kids play unsupervised outside at 2 and 4...I DON'T let my kids play outside unsupervised. So then I'd have to drop whatever I was doing to go out and play with my kids too, or have to deal with two tantrummy kids if I made them stay inside.

Then the older neighbor kid started asking to cut our grass. And I know this is something that kids DO for money and I don't begrudge the kid, but he'll ask us like three times a week. And we have had him cut the grass sometimes, don't get me wrong. We give him $20 every now and then to do it. But we don't always have the $20 to give him and it's sometimes a big pain. Also, the grass doesn't need to be cut three times a week, hello.

Then they started asking to borrow stuff, like the wagon. Which, even if I leave it out in the rain, cost us over $100 and it is NOT a toy for them. Besides, they're too big for the damn thing. It's for my TODDLERS. And they beg and plead when I tell them no, just like they're my own damn kids.

We had a garage sale last year and the girls came over and bought some old car seats for their dolls. I had like four at the sale, and two of them were cheapy ones WE had bought at garage sales, that we used in my parents' cars just a few times when the kids were babies. So I didn't mind selling the cheapy ones to the girls for a couple bucks. But then we had some nice newer infant car seats that we were selling for considerably more and the girls, of course, wanted the nice ones. But they only had $5. And I was NOT letting them go for $5, so I told them no, I'd sell them the two cheap ones for $5 for their dolls but the other ones were much more expensive.

A couple weeks ago, they were building a rabbit cage in their backyard. They asked OJ to come over and help them. He came back and said it was a disaster of epic proportions and asked me if I minded if he offered them our old dog crate (which we no longer use) in exchange for three grass cuttings. I said sure (and then worried about the fate of this poor rabbit). I don't know what exactly happened with the rabbit, but last week the eldest kid was back over to tell us that he had to give the rabbit to his aunt or something, and had to go back on our deal. Then he came over a couple days later to see if he could bring the cage back. I told him sure, we'd be home all day. Then he came back TWO DAYS LATER with the cage. I emphasize this not because I missed the cage, but because I want you to realize that he came over THREE TIMES over the course of a week just to return a damn cage.

Is people coming to my house a big deal? It sort of is to me. I value my alone time. I don't really feel the need to strike up conversations with the neighborhood kids. I don't like being interrupted fifty times when I'm in the middle of something. And the worst part is, I can't hide. Not only do the kids see our cars so they know if we're home...we also have a big glass front door, so they can see inside. And even if I don't answer the door, my kids go running pell-mell for the door as soon as they hear a knock. If I'm in the bathroom, they answer the damn door. (Even though I've told them a hundred times NOT to...it's really hard for a 2 and 4 year old to not answer the door, especially when it's the neighbor kids knocking.) And I'm sure you can imagine how much fun it is for me to hear my kids telling the neighbors "Mommy can't come to the door right now, she's pooping". All the dignities of motherhood.

Then the girls started leaving the gate open when they played in our yard. So now I have to check both gates before letting my dogs out, so the dogs don't run away. I also started lecturing the kids on latching the gate and was on the verge of banning them from the yard, but they seem to have fixed this problem. (They're very defensive about it too, always blaming each other for being the one to leave the gate open.)

And another thing along that line that I have to worry about: what if my dogs are out with the kids and one of them gets bitten?? So now I don't let my dogs out when the kids are in the yard just to make sure this doesn't happen. They're good dogs, but they're still young (a year) and they're from the same litter and they're shelties, herding dogs...sometimes they nip.

It just makes me crazy that the kids come over ALL THE TIME when we're home now. On Sunday, Oksana was sick and napping; Drake and I were in the basement. The eldest comes over and knocks. And knocks some more. And knocks louder. Constant knocking while I'm walking up the stairs. Waking up my daughter, who is napping. Interrupting me and Drake, who were playing together. He tells me OJ said he could cut the grass today. Of course OJ isn't home, and I tell him I don't know anything about that and I'll have to talk to OJ later in the afternoon when he comes home. Over the course of the next hour I talk to OJ on the phone, who tells me that he said nothing of the sort; however, we agree that we will let him cut the grass if he wants to and that OJ will pay him when he gets home. About an hour later, the kid comes knocking AGAIN. Same scenario, wakes up my daughter, interrupts the game Drake and I are playing. He wants to know if OJ is home yet. No, but fine, cut the grass; he won't be home until late to pay you though. So he starts cutting the grass and I've just gone downstairs when I hear knocking AGAIN. It's his sisters this time, wanting to play in the damn yard. I tell them fine. I look out the window a few minutes later and THEY HAVE A BABY IN MY YARD. So now we have a 6 year old and an 8 year old watching a BABY in my yard. Putting him in the dirty old baby swing that we don't use and I really should take down. Now I'm seeing accidents and liability dance in my head for sure. How do I revoke this permission to play in my yard??
Then, the lawn mower stops and...ANOTHER knock on my door. The eldest, telling me he's done (I don't care, I told you I don't have your money kid!), that our grass was really long, and how come my kids aren't playing outside? None of YOUR business kid. I remind him (as I told him earlier) that my daughter is SICK ('and you keep waking her up with your damn knocking' is implied there as well). Then the girls knock again, a little later, asking to borrow my wagon (again) to take the baby around the block (HELL NO).
OJ comes home around dinnertime and he's barely walked through the door when the eldest is back over, knocking, for his money.

Every damn day of my life is turning into that scenario. Yesterday evening, in the space of 5:30 pm to 7:30pm, they were over a bunch of times again.
1)The girls, to ask if they could play in the yard.
2)The boy, to tell me that the babysitter left the gate open earlier that day and our dogs got out and he had to chase them down and put them back in our yard.
3)I noticed that the older (8ish) girl was SITTING IN THE BABY SWING HERSELF when I was making dinner, and had to stop and go out and tell her not to go in there. (Picturing the whole damn swingset coming down on these kids, and that giant liability issue again.)
4)The boy, asking (and here I'm on the phone too, which he can clearly see, yet he keeps talking to me anyway) if have any kind of baby walker he can buy. I mention we're selling a bunch of baby stuff at the garage sale in two weeks, but no, he wants something tonight. Can he just borrow it? I tell him all the stuff is in the garage somewhere and I have to finish my phone call.
5)The girls, half an hour later, to see if we've found the baby stuff yet. (The baby is still over, I guess; I think they said it's their nephew.) This time I'm making dinner and told them we wouldn't have time to look for anything.

If you've made it this far in my rant without falling asleep, you've probably noticed a very conspicuous lack of something in all of these stories: PARENTS. Where the fuck are their parents??

And I guess this is what I'm really bothered by. The kids, after all, are just being kids. As I mentioned, they're nice, they're polite. Kids don't think about the fact that they're interrupting whatever you're doing when they knock on your door five times in a row. In their mind, grown-ups live to serve kids, after all. If anything, this has given me surprising insight into MY childhood; I picture so many things we did that probably annoyed the shit out of people in our neighborhood, and this is probably payback for that. Kids just don't think about that stuff.

But where are the PARENTS? And we extended invites to them (via their kids, since we never see the parents) to our first couple BBQ's when we lived here. They never came over, never said thanks but no thanks, nothing. But they'll let their kids come over and bother us constantly? Play in our yard? Let us help them build a freaking RABBIT CAGE in THEIR yard? Borrow stuff (or ASK to borrow stuff) from us all the time? I know they have to be aware of it too, because they're often out on their deck grilling, and they can see into our yard. And I've heard them call the kids home from our yard, and I've seen them peeking their heads out and looking over when their kids are at our door.

As a parent and a neighbor, first of all, if I caught my kids knocking at the neighbor's, my kids would get a big lecture about not bothering people. Second, I myself would march my butt over to the neighbors and talk to them about my kids coming over, see if they were bothered by any of it, and make an effort to BE NEIGHBORLY. I'd feel a lot better about it if they came over and talked to me about their kids playing in my yard. It would be a lot easier to explain to the adults that I can't be watching their kids in my yard and I'm worried someone is going to get hurt. Kids care nothing for the POSSIBILITY of injury, for insurance and liability.

I'm concerned that if I go over there and tell them (nicely) that their kids are driving us crazy by knocking all the time and that we're worried about them playing in the yard, I'm afraid that it will come off as confrontational, no matter how nice I am.

I'm trying to come up with something I can tell the kids that will ban them from our yard without being labelled the MEAN neighbors, and end up with a TP'd and egged house.

There's probably nothing I can do to stop them from knocking on my door fifty times a day, but I wish that would stop too.

So, to my neighbors: just because it was once said that it takes a village to raise a child, doesn't mean I want to raise yours. Please absorb this blog post psychically and keep your kids in check. Thank you.


  1. I think it is time to put your foot down. Sorry, but you need to go do the knocking. I don't know, maybe go tell the parents your kiddos have scarlet fever or something and the whole house is quarantined and could they please not let their kids over because your kids will want to play with them and you don't want neighbor kids to get sick? Or just tell them their children are pains in the ass and you are going to cal CPS. That should do it. Really like your blog BTW!

  2. Liz was just telling me about your blog, so I thought I'd check it out! This is her friend Christiane, by the way. That situation with the neighbor kids sounds super frustrating. If I were you, after a particularly inconvenient visit I would tell the kids that you like them coming over SOMETIMES, but at other times it isn't good. Then I would tell them you would like to meet their parents before they come over the next time - not a bad idea anyway, with liability issues, etc. I would keep the tone with the parents super friendly "Your kids are so nice and polite! They're so nice to my kids and I know they mean well," but set a limit.

    Of course, the parents sound psycho, so any sane advice is just out the window! You could always move. ;-) Just kidding.

    I am just now finally getting on the Heritage Makers site...I probably missed my window for the premier, but oh well. :( My life has been crazy - whose isn't, right?



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