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When life offers lemon neighbours


I have a horrible neighbour. I mean truly horrible. She yelled at my father on Christmas Day. She calls the city constantly with complaints about other people’s property — mostly mine because she apparently hates me.

She told off someone who was helping her clear her driveway because he refused to blow her snow into my driveway. And tonight she yelled at my kids.

It’s not the first time, according to the kids. But it is the first time they’ve told me immediately afterward and I had a witness to verify.

There are a few ways I can — and have tried — to deal with her exasperating meanness. When we first moved in next door I tried the “killing with kindness” approach. My second week here she accused me of stealing tools from her yard — not in so many words, but a definite confrontation. So I rallied the kids and helped her search.

I wanted the children to see that just because someone is kind of nasty to you, you can sometimes change their tone by offering to help rather than countering with meanness of your own. Of course, real-life scenarios don’t always prove my theories true, unfortunately.

So then I showed them we can ignore it. At first I did. And I told the children to as well. I explained to them that some people have things going on in their lives that we can’t understand. And that some people are just rude and nasty and we can’t change it. But allowing them to “get to you” and make you react in a mean way lets them win. Instead, we should be content with what we know is true — that we are not who they say we are and that we do not need to stoop to that level.

Then she yelled at my father.

Apparently, momma bear is also momma daughter, because that really upset me. Following it up with shovelling snow into my driveway and continued “dirty looks” and small scale harassment didn’t help the matter.

I really don’t understand why people have to be like this and I don’t know how to answer my children when they ask. However, since Christmas Day when she yelled at my father, the kids have learned a couple new words to reference the “lady” next door. Sometimes those kinds of words are appropriate and sometimes they’re downright necessary.

Tonight, however, our lovely neighbour yelled at my son for sledding. It’s winter. Our house is on a hill. There’s good slippery snow outside and he got a new sled for Christmas. Why wouldn’t he be sledding?

He may have accidentally sled partway onto — and promptly off of — her property as there is no fence between us (if ever there were a case of fences make good neighbours, this would be it). So instead of telling him to ignore her, or trying to excuse her nasty behaviour I looked at my son and said “let’s find out what the problem is, eh?”

We walked over and knocked on her door.

It turns out she’s just a really horrible person.

Her issue wasn’t that the kids may have crossed onto her property, as I guessed. Her issue was that they were playing. And having fun.  And that, apparently, is too much for her to handle.

She came up with excuses — that they would slide into the road and get hurt mostly. And when I told her I didn’t share her concern she got downright nasty. My son heard her speak to me in an utterly disrespectful and nasty way. And I didn’t like it. But I was damned if I was going to be as bad as her.

So I simply stated my case and offered the question “why, exactly, are you such a grouch?”

That got the door slammed in my face, as I expected. But I wanted my children to see what happens when someone is utterly unreasonable.

I tried, at first, to show them how to deal with a nuisance. Then I tried to show them how to ignore it. And then I tried to show them how to use their communication skills to engage in some conflict resolution. But she wasn’t as interested in teaching my kids good life skills as I am. So finally I showed them how to stand up for themselves and not take guff from anyone.

Sometimes life offers us learning opportunities for our children, but they’re not always the things we really want them to learn. Sometimes real life gets in the way of lessons and unco-operative humans don’t act like the scenarios and examples we want. And sometimes we wing it and just try to remain true to our values and ourselves and hope our children can learn something from that.

I think as long as we’re aware that little eyes are watching even more than little ears listen, our values, our true ones, at least, will be passed on. The kids might have learned a new word for a mean woman, but I hope they also learned that there’s a process when dealing with unreasonable people and that as long as you don’t stoop to their behaviour, even if they continue to irritate you, you’ve still won.

And as I write this, my kids are outside, sledding, with the reminder to stay on our side and safe in the knowledge that their mother isn’t going to let some nasty old you-know-what yell at them needlessly.

Perhaps that’s the life lesson she helped me teach them — that it’s their responsibility to do the right thing and it’s my responsibility to watch out for them. And nothing anyone else says matters as long as we’re taking care of our responsibilities.


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