My family loves to go skiing at a little family-owned resort about two hours north of here. They have special “car load” and “local appreciation” days in the middle of the week that make it more affordable for us than the big-name resorts. We stay a couple of days and get a rustic, one-bedroom suite with a wood-burning stove, let the dogs run around in the woods. A great time is (usually) had by all.
The only drawback to this bucolic setting is the back-to-back suites, thin walls, and adjoining bedroom doors for larger families. You can hear everything going on next door, from hiccups to couplings. Last November, a slew of teenage snowboarders were describing—in exacting detail— the anatomy of certain girls that they had known. I sent Oz next door to put a muffler on it.
“If you don’t mind, boys,” he drawled with just the right amount of menace and humor, “I don’t want my eight-year-old learning about S-E-X from you.”
Fortunately they complied. But this time, we weren’t so lucky.
A young couple from Texas and their small children—no more than two and four-years-old—arrived at nine p.m. Some good-natured racket is to be expected. But when both parents started shrieking loudly at their kids to go to sleep, threatening “a spanking” if they didn’t immediately comply, I drew an uneasy breath. Especially when the bedroom door was slammed shut, leaving the children crying in the dark.
“Can you imagine? No bedtime story, just the threat of a beating?” I fumed to Oz, glad that my kids were too busy with their video to have noticed. He just shook his head.
The only way I was able to go to sleep that night was to give the parents the benefit of the doubt: They had probably just gotten off work and driven hours with their tiny kids into the mountains. No doubt they were exhausted. Who among us are perfect??
Everyone I know gets tired and fed-up with the kids from time-to-time, goes into “crappy” parenting mode, yells. I have been guilty, too, of making empty threats (though never spanking) in moments of desperation. But I have learned from experience that lashing out at children doesn’t produce beneficial long-term results.
It might work in the moment, or for a short time afterwards, but then that negative energy inevitably convulses through their little bodies and brains and emerges from their sweet little mouths as disrespect for themselves and others. I can see it so immediately, so clearly when I am the source of that malevolence that I feel wretched and apologize to them and explain why it was “not appropriate behavior.” And then I try—really hard—to stay conscious of my actions and reactions. To not engender any harm.
It’s an on-going practice; the most difficult work I’ve ever done.
Unfortunately, things didn’t improve next door in the morning. The youngest child began chanting, “Up, up, Mama! Can I get up?” at six in the morning. His voice was hopeful at first, then plaintive, and then shrill This continued for almost an hour, both parents refusing to answer him, attempting to stay asleep. Finally the little boy got angry and started yelling, the parents exploded like a connected trip wire, shrieking in unison at him. Then suddenly the boy was crying “Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!” and whimpering again.
Eventually the mother got up and gave him something eat. (I heard the Dad saying, “Just give him a couple pieces…” so I presume it was candy.) I imagined that this would definitely backfire later on in the day.
When I ranted to Oz, he had no solution for me. “The parents are young,” he said, as if that was an excuse. “That’s probably the way they were raised,” and, “they don’t even know what they’re doing.”
“But shouldn’t we make them aware of it?”
Oz didn’t think it was our responsibility unless the kids were in any grave, immediate danger. Nor did he want to “start a feud” with our neighbors. And honestly, I didn’t blame him. They were from Texas, after all. What if they a gun rack in their car?
Unfortunately there were no other accommodations available, so if we had to put up with it.
Later I saw the mom walking through the snow smoking a cigarette with the two little ones trailing behind her. She looked bored and disconsolate; her husband no doubt off enjoying himself on the slopes while she tended to the kids by herself. I felt a tiny bit of empathy for her, but was more outraged on behalf of her kids.
That night, Oz and I made sure to talk in extra-loud voices so that our neighbors comprehended the acoustics of the walls. It made no difference: The kids were loud and boisterous, “a handful,” to be sure, but the parents never uttered a kind or loving word in their direction. And at bath time, when the threats started up again, I moved my entire family out into the living room and closed the bedroom door so that we wouldn’t have to hear the abuse. It was quiet when we went to sleep an hour later, but for the second night in a row, I was awakened several times by one of the little boys moaning, “Ow ow ow ow ow!” in his sleep.
Frankly, I was relieved to be leaving the next day. The mother got up early and took the kids into their living room to let the father (and us) sleep in, but around eight a.m., the youngest one came in singing, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” in the most joyous little voice imaginable. This happy serenade didn’t last long; Daddy put a quick end to it, sending the kid running into the other room with heart-wrenching sobs.
When Oz and the kids went off to ski that morning, I packed up our stuff and decided to write our neighbors a letter:
To the “Parents” Next Door,
We have spent the last 36 hours listening to you yell, scream, chide, and lash out at your small children. It was extremely disturbing to me and my family. The walls are very thin and we could hear everything, including your kids having nightmares in their sleep. I honestly felt like calling the cops, but I decided to write you this note instead.
I know that it’s not easy to be the parents of little ones, who can often try our patience and exasperate. But they are a gift to you, and you may not realize it until it’s too late, when they want nothing to do with you (because of this early abuse). They are only this age once, and you only have this one opportunity to do right by them.
Please (both of you) get some anger counseling so that your children don’t grow up to hate you, or repeat this terrible behavior with their own kids.
I pray that you will all get the help and assistance that you need.
Your Neighbor Next Door
When Oz came back, I told him that I was going to put it on their car windshield just before we left. To be on the safe side, I would inform the resort’s manager. Oz shrugged his shoulders but assented.
When the manager read my letter, she nodded vehemently, and said, “I’ll say something too. We’re supposed to enjoy our kids when they’re young!”
To be honest, I felt a bit underhanded in not confronting the parents directly, but I didn’t trust myself to say the “right thing” in “just the right way.” I didn’t want it to come off like sanctimonious criticism. I wanted them to hear and understand the ideas I was attempting to communicate.
Will it help? Probably not.
But someone owes it to the kids—and the relationship they have with their parents— to intervene. The next time these people individually or collectively scream at (or hit) their small children, I want them to feel like someone is listening in through very thin walls.