A neighbour called the police on my kids yesterday

It’s lunchtime as I type this. It was supposed to be rainy/snowy today, but the sun is shining. The kids did their schoolwork this morning, and they’re going to go outside to play as soon as they’re done eating.

It terrifies me.

Yesterday, a neighbour in our sweet small town called the police on my kids.

It was just another day in this shitty new pandemic life we’re all living. The kids did their schoolwork in the morning. They ate lunch, and then they went outside to play, as they do just about every afternoon now.

We live on a street with (mostly) very small, shared yards. Our backyard playground is mere feet away from our neighbour’s backyard playground because, as I said, these yards are SMALL AND SHARED.

When our kids are playing outside, the kids next-door are often playing outside, too. It’s the only kids they see, so sure, they talk and joke and attempt to “play” together — all from a distance.

Sometimes they play Charades — no need to be close for that — and last week or the week before (it’s all a blur), I showed them how to run an obstacle course and time each other. No problems there. One person at a time on the obstacle course, and everyone else cheered from a distance.

They’re kids, all between the ages of seven and nine. They’re not perfect, and sometimes they veer closer than six feet. One of them will remember and yell “Social distance!” and they back up, or we remind them from the windows.

The phone rang yesterday afternoon. It was our local police department, calling to tell me that a neighbour “who wished to remain anonymous” had reported that we had a “crowd of kids” running around together, even running in and out of each other’s houses.

I almost dropped the phone, I was so shocked.

The kids never go inside each other’s houses — they haven’t in weeks. They only ever see each other outside in our shared backyard (and driveways that are separated by a small strip of grass).

I was shaking as I held the cordless phone and explained exactly what we’ve been doing (and not doing). The police officer on the phone was very kind. I don’t blame them one bit for calling — they had to follow up on whatever “complaint” came in. I’m grateful they were so nice about it, because I would have burst into tears if they’d been anything but.

I hung up and cried. I told my neighbours what happened. They did not get a call. I don’t know why I specifically was singled out — my house, my kids — by this wishing-to-remain-anonymous neighbour.

The world feels different now. I don’t feel my family is safe in our own home, in our own yard. I feel watched, judged, hated.

This person — whoever they are — and their decision to tattle on my children has made me deeply paranoid. Or, more likely the case, I was low-key paranoid all along and this has just sent me to a darker level where I’m drawing the curtains and fearing my own neighbours.

Every window facing our house potentially holds a pair of spying eyes, waiting for my children to slip up.

Every person casually walking past my house, usually with a dog on a leash, could be taking a critical look.

Every car that drives by, I’ll wonder if they’re really slowing down to spy or if I’m just imagining it.

Was it someone I know? Someone to whom I’ve delivered cards and homemade caramel corn at Christmas time? Worse, was it someone I know well? Someone who’s tasted my baking, chatted with my kids, been inside my house? Has my husband cheerfully run his snowblower up and down this person’s driveway after a snowstorm? (He does practically half the street.)

That person’s ugliness has ignited an ugliness in me.

How am I supposed to smile and say hi — from my porch — to the people who walk past my house today? How am I going to have casual chit-chat with neighbours I might see on a walk, now and in the future, when the back of mind is going to whisper that it might have been them?

My husband wants me to forget it happened and move on. Of course he does — he is perfectly sane and calm in all occasions. But he didn’t get a call from the police, I remind him tearfully. He isn’t shaken by the fact that one of our neighbours is a grown-up version of a playground tattletale, except instead of getting hauled in early from the school playground they were hoping we’d have much more serious consequences.

We are taking COVID-19 seriously. BELIEVE ME. We are not those people frigging around and trying to dodge the rules. WE ARE RULE-FOLLOWERS, all four of us.

I haven’t left the house (other than three contactless pick-ups) since March 13. My husband is the only one who gets our groceries, since he’s still working out of the home (on airplanes, no less). We didn’t see any of our family for Easter, even though it was heart-breaking. My sister was in town for a work drop-off so she swung by with our daughter’s birthday present: she stayed on the sidewalk and I stayed on our front steps, and we both cried under our sunglasses.

WE ARE FOLLOWING THE RULES.

There is no rule that says kids can’t play outside. In fact, it’s ENCOURAGED.

There is no rule that says children living in tightly-packed neighbours must go outside in shifts. If that was the rule, WE WOULD FOLLOW IT.

My kids have lost their ability to go to school, after-school activities (choir and band) and special classes (Taekwando and dance). They haven’t seen their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins since early March. They’ve lost all playdates, sleepovers and birthday parties. They can’t go to a playground, a park, a bowling alley or a restaurant. They’ve lost their ability to see all of their friends, except for the two who happen to live right next-door.

The kids are finishing up their lunch now, and they’re going outside any minute. I have no idea if the next-door neighbours’ kids are going out, too, but they might. Is it really a problem if these four children are in their own yards at the same time — just because our yards are basically shared? Is someone going to call the police on us again today?

It’s the feeling of betrayal that haunts me. A neighbour. A neighbour who wished to remain anonymous. Someone who lives right here on our street, likely.

This is a friendly street where we hold copies of each other’s house-keys and look out for each other’s kids/pets and take in each other’s mail while they’re away on vacation. Now I’m shaken by the fact that there’s a Judas among us, and I’ll probably never know who it is.

I know what I’m SUPPOSED to do in this moment. I’m supposed to brush it off, not let it bother me. I’m supposed to remember that this virus is making people do things they wouldn’t normally do — yell at people in the line at the grocery store, lash out at people online, etc. I’m supposed to remember that we’re all doing the best we can, and that for some people — apparently — that means reporting people they perceive to be flipping the middle finger to the rules.

I know what I’m supposed to do, but this is how I feel. Hurt. Betrayed. Horrified. Shamed. Embarrassed. Angry. Paranoid. Scared. We have lived here for eight and a half years and loved it, but now part of me wants to pick up and MOVE because nothing feels the same.

I’ve talked to the kids (multiple times) already today about how they need to be REALLY CAREFUL to stay in our yard, and stay apart from the neighbours if they’re outside at the same time. They are worried. Can you blame them?

All they want to do is go outside in the sun and play in the yard, but now they have to wonder if they’re going to see their mom crying because the police have called again?

I didn’t have to write this post. I could have swallowed my shame and horror, and never spoken about it publicly. But I’m writing it because this is hard. This is hard. THIS IS SO HARD. ALL OF IT.

I’m writing about it because writing about this ugliness is important. Being betrayed by a neighbour has hurt me, and that is not something that I’m going to magically forget even when social distancing stops.

Sometimes I worry that even if this virus doesn’t kill me directly, living like this heightened state of anxiety — and now, paranoia — is going to destroy me in other ways. That whenever things go “back to normal” I’m going to be a fractured shell of the person I once was.

I hear the kids above me, getting their boots on — ready for another afternoon in our muddy backyard. The sun is shining, but it’s dark and ugly out in our neighbourhood. Are they going to be watched? Are they going to slip up? Is the phone going to ring?

Like most things in life right now, we have no fucking idea.

xo

8 Comments on “A neighbour called the police on my kids yesterday

  1. I am SO sorry that a neighbour felt the need to call this in and cause such feelings. I would be similarly devastated and angry and worried and all the rest of the emotional storm this has created. You are doing your best, and more than many others. Keeping you & your lovely little family in my thoughts.

  2. whoa. This is really hard to read because it’s a fear of mine as well. We live on a street with lots of kids that usually all play together. ALL OF THE TIME but like your’s, they haven’t been in each other’s houses in over a month. If one is biking however, others will join and they are doing their best to keep their distance but they can’t bike in their yards. I think we have to respect the mental health of kids and their need of fresh air and conversation. I think it’s really sad that people can’t understand this. I am sorry this happened to you – Most of us are all doing our best and judgement will not make parenting during this time any easier.

    • Well said, Meghan! The judgement out there now is just vicious.

  3. Don’t let the busybodies get you down and don’t drive yourself crazy wondering who it is. Just treat everyone as if they’re not the culprit. If they did it out of malice the best revenge is to treat them with kindness. If they did it out of a misguided sense of doing the right thing then treating them coolly would only reinforce their self-righteousness. Hopefully who ever did it will see your post and feel ashamed. If they are honourable they may even apologize. Either way, best to just leave it in the past.

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