My neighbor doesn’t like my 6-year-old son. No, really. I’m not imagining her disdain or putting words in her mouth. She called me after the first 80-degree spring day, when all the neighborhood kids were playing outside after a miserably long winter, to tell me she simply could not spend another summer listening to Christopher’s ear-splitting voice outside. I should have known by the ringer’s cacophonous tone that it was her calling to complain – again.
Our first conversation about Christopher’s voice took place a couple years earlier. Our tête-à-tête went something like this —
Neighbor: “Christopher is really loud when he’s playing outside. Can you tell him to keep it down?”
Me: (eyes blinking rapidly trying to formulate a response) “Huh?"
Neighbor: “Christopher is sooooo loud I can barely hear myself think. I can’t sit on my patio or talk on the phone when he’s playing outside. Can you just tell him to be quiet?"
Me: (head cocked to the side trying to comprehend) “What? Say again?"
Confusion immediately set in. A young boy is playing outside. He’s having fun. He’s running around with his friends. He’s excited. And, let me get this straight — I’m supposed to ask him to be quiet in the one place where he doesn’t have to use his “indoor voice?"
In all fairness to my neighbor, my son is loud. No one, including his father and me, denies his decibel level is at least 90 percent higher than other loud things, including screech owls and little girls. When he’s playing hide-n-seek, it’s pointless to ask him to be quiet. His happiness meter skyrockets when the seeker eventually finds the hider. His squeals echo for miles.
But, after repeated calls from my neighbor, telling me my kid is too loud when he’s playing outside and the frequent “be quiet!” screeches from her porch swing, I told her no. I won’t crush my child’s spirit for her sake. Her anger at my son is past the point of no return so we need to agree to disagree on what is disproportionally loud.
He isn’t loud because he’s throwing a temper tantrum or fighting with friends. He isn’t cussing or yelling or behaving badly. He’s loud because he’s happy. And she isn’t. Her anger goes far deeper than simply scolding the sound of my child’s voice.
Christopher doesn’t understand my neighbor’s anger. He doesn’t understand why she yells at him. When he helped my husband clean up after the dog one afternoon, he suggested they clean up our neighbor’s yard, too.
“Maybe then she wouldn’t hate me so much,” Christopher said.
What’s sad is my 40-something neighbor is too young to be so unpleasant. She isn’t a curmudgeonly octogenarian pointing a wrinkled, crooked finger at her foes. She’s a middle-aged woman with a couple of kids. Sure, she’s divorced and overweight and disgruntled, but if her life isn’t turning out the way she wants, she can change it. Don’t take it out on my kid. Demanding quiet from a 6-year-old boy when he’s playing outside isn’t going to solve her problems.
I’m sure we will continue to hear cries of “you are the worst neighbors ever!” And I will continue to teach my son to act respectfully in the face of adversity. He doesn’t get to yell back. I will teach him about taking the high road even when he hasn’t done anything wrong. He will smile through his hurt. I will explain that some people are perpetually unhappy. But, I won’t hush my son for her.
I’m blessed to learn from him every day about what happiness really means - being enthusiastic about life. My son might be loud, but my neighbor could learn a thing or two from him. She might discover a newfound joy if, instead of harrumphing about his squeals and shrieks when he’s playing outside, she embraced my son’s unabashed delight in the simple things. Then again, maybe his enthusiasm reminds her too much of her own sadness. Either way, she will fail in her quest for a quiet nirvana. The echo of a hollow heart is far more deafening than Christopher will ever be.