The other day I was walking down the street in my neighborhood on a gorgeous sunny afternoon. It’s not the greatest, but it’s certainly not a bad area. It’s the kind of place where the sidewalk is cracked and broken and no one is really inclined to fix it, but most people will nod at each other and grill on their front lawn. Two kids were hanging out of a second story window, I’d say they were about seven or eight, yelling mean things at anyone who walked by. “Big idiot” was the name calling of choice, which I thought was hilarious. I chuckled to myself and waved, which didn’t seem to be the effect they were aiming for if the tongues sticking out at me were any indication. I was briefly concerned about it, not everyone is as nice as I am, but quickly forgot. On my way back to my house I passed the kids again, only this time they were on the porch roof of their house, having apparently gotten brave enough to crawl out there to heckle passers by more easily. Of course, I almost had a heart attack when I saw such small people on the roof.
“Hey! Get in your house! You’re going to get hurt!” I yelled, like the big idiot I am, flapping my arms around, and of course, the kids laughed, but then they did scuttle inside.
“You’re not my parents,” I heard before the window slammed shut.
The thing was, there were other adults outside because it was such a nice day, and no one else had bothered to say anything to the kids. I spent a long afternoon talking to my significant other. “Should I go over and tell their parents?”
“But what if they do it again?”
“They won’t, and if they do it isn’t your problem.”
And so it went back and forth. The thing that got me is the kids were really shocked that an adult who wasn’t related to them had stopped to tell them what to do. When I was a kid pretty much any adult that saw me doing something stupid would yell at me, and frequently did. When did that change? I’m not talking about interfering with other people’s parenting, but simply helping out if you see something truly worrisome. (Take note: I’m not talking about those busybodies who call the child protective services because they see a kid playing in their front lawn that they think should have a helicopter parent hovering over them.) I wish we lived in a world where we still had enough community that we could be helpful without someone taking it the wrong way.
In the end I did not go over to the house the kids lived in and rat them out to their parents. There probably wouldn’t have been anything to gain from it, and there’s a lingering guilt from childhood that comes with ratting someone out. Nothing bad happened, after all. I will say something to them if I see them out there again though and I would hope that another parent would read my kids the riot act if they were doing something similar. There doesn’t seem to be a good answer to these types of social quandaries. If I’d gone over there chances are the mother would have thought I was berating her in some way, I don’t know her beyond polite nods, no matter how casual I was about it. How do you have a community where the status quo seems to be an arms length standoffishness? How do you have a community when everyone is waiting for the hammer to drop on them in the form of criticism? I just don’t know, but I’m going to keep being friendly until things change or my neighbors get to know me better, and then maybe it will be less of a problem, at least on my block.
Pick up a copy of Threefold Love.