There is an old man who lives in our neighborhood. He and his wife moved to their small home when the area was first growing, back in the 1940s. I am not sure their house has had much done to it since then but I try to imagine what it would be like to live in the same place, with the same person, for over 60 years. I imagine there is a pathway of gray on the hardwood floors where the finish has worn off.  Steps from the bed to the bathroom to the kitchen sink and coffee pot, marking a lifetime of routine and living. There is a crack in the molding on the outside and the house could use some sprucing up but I can hear the conversation now: why fix it up when this house will be torn down by the next owners anyway? Families now need great rooms and whirlpool tubs and  kitchens fit for a five star hotel: 6 burner -12,000 btu -stove tops, a double oven, and all in stainless steel finish thank you very much. The only changes to the house come each fall when political candidate signs are staked in the front yard around the eternal blue sign with a dove stating “war is not the answer”.  I used to wish they would fix the place up a bit, help the appeal of the neighborhood and improve the all-important resale value. But now I find myself loving their disregard for outwardly appearances, either from lack of desire, priority, funds, or awareness. The wife is gone now, died a few years back and was honored by the garden club she helped start. They planted a tree in our park and put a plaque underneath it. Tributes like this make me love our neighborhood. We are a community and the tree, for me, represents what it means to live in proximity to others: we know who you are, we acknowledge you matter and we are thankful for sharing your life with us.

My girls bus stop is on the corner of our street, caddy-corner from where the recluse widower lives. I have not seen him in a while but another neighbor assures me he is still there. It was a late spring day last year when it all began. The baby and I were waiting for the bus, standing in the street and trying to count the leaves on the forsythia bush which had just bloomed a magnificent yellow gold. I heard a loud knock and turned from the bush to the old man’s house. I saw two teenage boys snickering as they hid behind a tree and peeked out from behind to see if the old man managed to get to the door, only to have no one there. After about 40 seconds, the man opened the door, peered out, and saw no one. He picked up a newspaper or flyer or some paper lying on the front porch and closed the door. The teens proceeded to do this 3 more times, laughing harder each time at the old man’s gulibility. I was fuming.

I wouldn’t call myself so much a whistle blower as someone who speaks her mind. Remember I don’t like leash laws or speed limits so I am not necessarily a rule follower. But this was an attack on an individual, a human. Perhaps it was because my own grandmother, age 95, was still living in her own home and answering her own door when someone knocked. Or maybe it was because these boys reminded me of my first job out of college, teaching at a boarding school, where many of the students reminded me more of the cartoon characters Beavis & Butthead than actual human beings whom some parent loved. But I could not help myself in “speaking” to these two. Because while they were hidden from the man and his house which they ding-dong-ditched, they were in plain eyesight to me. So I said something along the lines of come on guys, find something better to do…this guy could break his hip while trying to get the door and never recover. Okay so maybe I went to far there but I wanted them to know you don’t do this in a community.

As the words came out of my mouth I knew I was digging my own grave. I could almost see the wheels turning in their heads about when they could turn their wrath to my home. It was not hard to distinguish our house from the others since we have various lawn ornaments -otherwise known as toys not put away- strewn around the front yard. On any given day, one may find: bikes, chalk, scooters, a pogo stick, lemonade stand, jumprope, picnic leftovers, or kids hanging from the tree. The very next day the knocking began. It would alarm my dog who started to bark and then wake my sleeping baby who would not go back for the rest of her nap and be grumpy from the disturbance at 2:50 until her bed time. This went on for 4 days until I decided to go after them. I was sitting in the dining room reading my mail in my tennis clothes and sneakers when the 5th knock happened. I jumped up and chased the two boys out of my driveway. They dashed across the street and down into the park, thinking they would lose me. What woman in her right mind would leave a now awake baby alone in her crib? I was getting closer until they decided to cut through the creek at which point I yelled: ‘You are messing with the wrong Mom. I will get you!” What I should of said was “please come disturb my family whenever you are bored.”

I read an article which described a growing trend of stay at home mothers turned private investigators. It was a good point: we have disguises (children tagging along), do not appear strange if glued to the cell phone (we are anyway) and have a network of stealth and quick fellow informants. The Fallon Park Caper is proof in point. I called my neighbor Laura about this incident immediately and she happened to be driving at the other end of the park. She ID one of the boys, knew where he lived, drove by the house, gave me his address which I looked up on the property value website and called his parents. It was gratifying to get to  the bottom of this until I talked to the mother who explained I had no idea how hard it is to keep track of teenagers with cellphones and a small house. In one call I was able to see I was on my own. Surprisingly, a group of about 9 boys came and apologized. It was a touching moment for me, I had stood up for myself, the boys saw the error of their ways, and we were all going to be the better for it.  Justice had indeed prevailed. Silly me.

The knocking took a two week hiatus and then began again. This time I was prepared. When the banging came, I quietly snuck out of the house and went around the park in the opposite direction. I could see the two culprits high-fiving one another as they sauntered down the road. I jogged silently (see the marathon post if necessary), gaining ground until I was within arms distance of them. I grabbed one backpack, pulled it to the ground and said: “What the #%@$ is your problem?!?” They were shocked, scared, and stuttering. They lied about where they went to school and lived and promised they would never do it again. I told them their word meant nothing to me. They apologized once before and it meant nothing since they did it again. I knew this talk wasn’t going to help my cause but I wanted to be on record -with them and with myself-that I wasn’t going to accept this as just another thing that happens when “boys will be boys”.

We haven’t been ding-dong-ditched in about six months. Maybe they got jobs or a girlfriend or a life. They did knock once last week when Greg was home and he chased them too. This was a welcome shift, as he too had snickered at my tenacity last spring and was concerned I screamed curse words in their faces. So I guess it should come as no surprise on Friday the 13th -an early release day from school- we were egged. In broad daylight. I know I know it is a right of passage. I just wish they did it among themselves -like someone in their school-but I made this bed and I am willing to lie in it. As my fingers froze in the vinegar and water mixture the computer recommended for removing egg from painted brick, I tried to find the lesson in the madness. At least now they were bothering my house and not the elderly, frail neighbor’s. But I also started thinking I could use this for one of those conversation during the teen years when I have to say over and over and over “I know everyone else is doing it but you are not allowed”. I will remind my girls of the knocking and the egging of their childhood and how it was scary (or maybe it was the crazed look on my face when I chase the knockers they fear but whatever) and wrong.  I hope my girls know if they don’t have the courage or strength or influence to stop doing something they know is harmful, then at least they have the sense to walk away (not that I always did but that is another story). If one person’s simple fun or entertainment was at the expense of someone else, it is NOT okay. Eggs, words, minor property damage, drinking and driving, prank calls, gossip, u name it. Ellen DeGeneres once said she never made fun of others in her humor because it isn’t funny to make someone else feel bad. I love the community idea behind her stance. We affect one another to varying degrees. We all matter. I wonder if I will wake up tomorrow morning to toilet paper in my trees. It wouldn’t be the first time, probably not the last either.

4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Casey Kennedy on January 13, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    Can you get their school involved? Are they on a sports team and you can talk to their coach?

    Yeah, we were all obnoxious teenagers once, but this is bullying. And I know you can handle yourself, but why should you when others can for you so you can focus on raising your own kids and not someone else’s.

    And I AM glad that they set their sites away from the little old gentleman, but I wish they could figure out that setting them on a stay at home mom is just as cowardly if not more so (no matter how tough she is.)

    Go get a little video camera and record it on tape and turn it into the cops. Small acts of civil disobedience, if not properly handled could result in a very wrong path for these boys further on down the road. They are obviously getting a thrill out of it. A strong message of “not okay” might just turn them back to a better path… They need to have something stop the “thrill” they get from these actions.

    (When did I ever get so sanctimonious and matronly? Wow… I promise I’m still cool in other ways… Promise!!)


  2. Posted by Allison A. on January 14, 2012 at 12:01 am

    I just saw the movie “Iron Lady” and the part about the little old man was touching after seeing M.Thatcher, once so strong and confident, crippled by grief and hallucinations of her dead spouse, but still fighting to maintain.

    And I thought about the teenage sons I have, and I made no excuses for the behavior of those boys…can it still be funny to them? are they that bored?

    You should engage the entire neighborhood in addressing this somehow because it just is not right and maybe for the boys it is not too late to gain some humility with the right coaxing. Yikes…I would be so frustrated!

    If it was my son and I knew it was continuing to happen he would have to work it off by doing something nice for the victim as many times as the door had been knocked. And while he was working off his debt, I would hope the young man in question would learn something valuable from his victim and her family. After all, she seems pretty wise.


  3. I so could have used your help way back in 6th grade.


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