All of a sudden, I heard angry knocks on our apartment door during the afternoon siesta hour. It was a weekday and I was at home, guiltlessly binge-watching TV in my pajamas. As the knocking sounded urgent, I grabbed a robe and opened the door to see the neighbors’ eldest daughter, possibly 5 or 6 years old, banging on my door. Her father looked on at her from the stairwell. “I want our kite back,” she demanded. No “please,” or explanation of any sort. Without waiting to be invited in and full of chutzpah, she barged through our apartment, headed straight for the porch. With the prized kite in hand, she bolted from the apartment without another word.
They had moved into the apartment above us about two years ago, replacing the college boys who shared the apartment before that (weekly poker games, loud music—we weren’t sorry to see them move elsewhere). A young couple with four little kids moved in after. It wasn’t long after this new family moved in that we started receiving “gifts” from above. At first, it came in the form of clean laundry that had been dropped onto our porch by mistake. I took the first opportunity to personally bring our new neighbors back their stray socks and introduced myself. The wife seemed like a quiet woman and was thankful and apologetic.
But it didn’t take long for me to start missing our previous neighbors. As the days warmed, the kids started to play on the porch and I would frequently find that our planters sprouted candy wrappers and ice cream sticks. I begrudgingly picked these out, knowing that kids would be kids. Occasionally, there would be a small toy. Not wanting to make a big deal out of it, I tossed the trash out but I would always return toys, lost socks, and laundry by leaving them in a bag on their door.
What really bothers me, however, are the times I find our planters filled with cigarette butts and tobacco wrappers. Once, in an angry rage, I collected about 20 butts into a bag, planned on leaving it on their doorknob in a passive aggressive attempt to show them that I wouldn’t tolerate it. Luckily, my level-headed husband stopped me from doing it.
I don’t mind the occasional sock or towel falling onto my porch. Heck, I could even imagine a housewife with four kids dropping it on purpose, happy to have a neighbor come by, even if only to return a sock and offer a temporary reprieve in the form of adult conversation. What bothers me more is their lackadaisical attitude towards the world beyond their porch. When the adults carelessly toss their cigarette butts onto our porch, their children are learning that it’s OK to do the same with candy wrappers and ice cream sticks.
We rent, as do they. The ground beneath our porch is an unattended field, overgrown with weeds and litter. Regardless, for the time being, we live here. We don’t treat the area surrounding our home like a landfill, even if it seems like no one tends to it.
Furthermore, as the girl’s father stood by while she banged on my door, he didn’t say a word. It was hard to tell if he didn’t notice that her banging was rude and that her language was demanding, or whether he was too tired to care. She wasn’t polite, even if you cut her some slack for being six.
Of course, it’s not my place to educate other peoples’ children, but I also don’t have to be happy about children who aren’t respectful. I was raised on “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18), a lesson I try to apply everyday.
As I embark on my own parenthood journey and am expecting my first child, I know I will be more aware as to what I do, and how I teach my children to treat others—and as always, keep learning from situations like this.