Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

If you’ve been a reader since the beginning you might remember when a neighbor called 911 on my son who was having a particularly vocal evening. I wrote this I Love You But I Don’t Like You Very Much Right Now and then I kind of dropped off the face of the earth, blog-wise. Shortly after this, a social worker showed up at my home, because of my vocal kid. And a neighbor had accused us of being abusive. The kicker was, my son happened to be home from school that day, and I got to introduce him to the social worker.

I knew it was coming, the social worker visit, because you cannot have kids this loud, in such a quiet neighborhood, and not expect someone’s hackles to get up eventually. I was dreading it, but not surprised in the very least. This is just my life, another piece of my puzzle.  It sucks though, that horrifying feeling when someone comes knocking on the door with a list of accusations. It is a heart-clenching, jaw-dropping moment to hear the words, “Hi, I’m a social worker and we received a phone call about your children.” Not my favorite day to say the least.

I’ve debated ever writing about this horrific moment in parenting, and frankly, it has taken me over six months to come back and write this. I need to spill my guts, tell anyone who’ll read it, and let you all know how this makes a mom and dad feel.

Here’s a couple reasons to finally write this:

1) I know I am not the only one who has ever had this visitor. I’d love to hear if this has ever happened to any of my readers. I need to hear it, from anyone. Please give me some feedback. Let’s make this a real, healthy conversation.

2) I’m talking about it because I do want someone else to know that this happens to good parents, it happens everyday. And it doesn’t make you a bad mom, when this happens to you. Yes, it sucks, but in no way does it devalue all your hard work, love, and advocacy.

3) This happens because people misunderstand families with special needs kids and kids with mental health disorders. And just in case any of you are having exposure to a family like mine, I want to tell you what might be a better answer than picking up the phone.

My husband and I have 3 kids, aged 9, 13, and 19. We live a busy life, and he is gone a lot. And two of our kids are in the autistic spectrum with various diagnoses and lots of services. I mean, we have so many services for our kids, it’s like a full-time, traveling sport. I live in my car, I go from school to school often, and I spend a lot of time in doctor’s offices, talking to insurance companies, pharmacies, and therapists. I have lost jobs because of this busy-ness, and I have walked away from jobs to avoid being fired from all the craziness.

I have learned how to make really good friends in the Special Ed department at my school district, and I have become a master negotiator. If President Obama decided to start dealing with ISIS, I honestly think I might be able to get through to them, between the admins and dr.’s I deal with, plus the negotiating with strong-willed, overly intelligent kids I live with. I can wheedle my way out of almost anything now and get a lot of things to go in the direction I want. And I am a really GOOD LISTENER and note taker. I want to know all I can do, and I care. I care more than I ever thought was possible. Why? Because they’re my kids.

I spend a lot of my time talking kids down from fits, apologized to numerous friends and family members for “incidents” at their homes or ours, I talk about to them- explaining every last detail about why something is inappropriate, to listening to a 9 year old tell me how everything I know about atom theory is wrong (by the way, I know nothing about atom theory). I know all the ins and outs of animal facts, I travel with my kids on endless road trips and I have visited every zoo in the vicinity of any vacation I have ever been on with them. We  talk about train facts, dinosaur names, and MineCraft. You know, typical kid stuff, but on a totally different autistic spectrum intensity, as in, ALL THE TIME. Think Big Bang Theory. Seriously, I live it. It’s crazy town and exciting and interesting and it keeps me on my toes, 24/7. Never a dull moment, I promise. I have had to jump in pools fully clothed to get a kid out who is screaming bloody murder for no reason any one can discern. I have taken kids to the ER for med reactions, had to hospitalize another for a psych concern, and done the no med thing many a time. I take this seriously. It’s my life, they’re my kids, and it is my JOB. I listen and get talked at all day long, rarely getting a word in edgewise, with little to no respect, and I go to sleep each night, to wake up again and do it all over again. They talk, talk, talk, They scream, scream, scream. They make crazy, crazy, crazy, and yet, my husband and I live our lives, take them places, and do all we can. In fact, we are on the go more than most, constantly trying to stimulate them and satiate their intelligence and interests. I have handed a box of crackers to the back seat of my car at 11:30pm on a road trip and asked my kids to eat so they’ll stop talking to me. Seriously, they talk from sun up, to sun down. It’s fun, crazy and exhausting.

We have literally spent all of our money trying to help our two youngest have the best school experiences they can get, the best services we can find, and make everyone’s lives as comfortable and calm as we possibly can. I have walked out of dr’s offices, fired therapists, and pulled a kid from a school to avoid them expelling him, just to make sure he doesn’t have it on his record. I’ve home schooled, unschooled, and schooled all over again, only to fight to the death to get an IEP finished and get one of my kids in a Special ED school, and sent another to a local military-style charter school. Like I said, it is a full-time job. And I am not complaining.

In short, we have tried to exhaust every opportunity for the kids as we possibly can. We love our kids to the moon and back. We protect them and we do what we can. So you can imagine how horrifying it was to hear that a neighbor, someone you called a friend, call CPS on us. The same one who called 911. It is an awful thing and it just shouldn’t be taken lightly. Yes, I know why some families need to be called on, but anyone who knows us, knows that we do it all. We do everything for the kids. And we love them and they are well taken care of. But when your middle son starts to take on puberty and his voice changes, well, he can sound a little like mom and a little like dad, and our neighbors thought it was us screaming at our kids like banshees. It’s not. It’s a very cute, doe-eyed boy, trying to figure out adolescence and with zero filter for appropriateness, in both level of expression and what is really a big deal and what isn’t And therein lies the confusion, of a neighbor thinking she needs to protect my kiddos and me standing frozen at my door, face-to-face with a social worker.

I’m not going to go into details about her visit, except to tell you that once she and I spoke, and she spoke to the kid who happened to be home sick from school for the day, too, she realized the misconception and dismissed it. But it is something that is still stuck in my mind. And I admit, that it has really set me back, because even six months later, I get rather paranoid when my kids make “too much noise” or someone has a fit, or the boys fight like kids do, in the front yard. I’m going to be recovering from this for a long time. It’s a feeling I don’t want to relive anytime soon. And I may have a real problem with that neighbor now. I cannot bring myself to be her friend anymore. I’ve been burned and it feels like crap. So she’ll have to forgive my needing time to come around to her coffee invites. Nope, no thanks, not yet. Too soon.

Here’s what I wish my neighbor had done. And I hope you’ll consider the same, if ever in the same position. Or I hope you’ll share this with someone who might need to hear it, whether it be a family or friend. I wish she’d come across the street and talked to me. I wish she’d asked me if I needed help, or a moment of peace. I wish she’d asked me about my kids. I wish she had taken the time to talk to me before call child welfare services. Or a baby-sitter for a date night. I wish she’d graced me with some compassion or care, instead of an accusation. I wish she’d offered a helping hand, a caring word, help with errands, or just her presence of less condemnation. Now I have to look across the street and see her and not get mad. I have to know she had her windows open and try no to be paranoid about her thinking my kids are too noisy. And every time an official looking car drives even remotely close to my house, my blood pressure goes sky high temporarily.

In plain English, IT SUCKS.

The problem is, we have all stopped investing in the people around us. We’ve stopped talking, supporting and interacting in humane ways. We talk to our neighbors, but by text or through Facebook, rarely ever standing at the picket fence or back yard BBQ, or on the sidewalk after work chatting. We’re all rushed, too busy, and distracted. We care more about what’s on cable, a baseball game, cat videos on youtube, being popular on Twitter, or how we’re going to cope until June 12th when the new season of Orange Is The New Black comes back on Netflix. We’re obsessed with phones and Xbox, and our kids traveling sports, but not in how others around us might need us or be struggling. Our lives are dispensable. Our friends are disposable. We rarely care about the struggles of the family next door, especially if they seem odd, stressed, or their lives don’t match up to ours. We close our doors and windows, we look the other way. We condemn and judge. We cast people aside. We no longer live with a “it takes a village mentality.” We are a “me, me, me” society, and we are so lazy and careless that we’d rarely ever give a thought to walking across the street with a prepared meal for a neighbor who might need it or something as simple as a kind word. Let alone, be the kind of people who might insinuate ourselves enough into the lives of others that need friends or love, instead we’d rather sit on our butts and call 911 or child welfare services.

Good God, how sad is that?

I hope you can hear it in this post, that what happened to us was pretty wrong. I hope you have discerned that I am asking you to care. Or spread the word. Share this post. Talk about it. We need to give more to those with high-maintenance kids and families that aren’t typical. We need to come home and talk to neighbors, get to know people and reach out. We need to get our fat bellied, pale faces up off the comfy couch, go outside and be a friend. Stop watching tv and other peoples nonrealistic lives, and go jump into a real life of your own and get active, interactive, and love on people. Care. Love. Talk. Put down the remote and go shake a hand. Bake a batch of cookies and deliver them to a neighbor once a week. Mow a law. Host a party. And find out who’s living near you. The point is, you have so much more to give others and yourself, than a night zombied out in front of Mad Men. And others have so much more to gain by knowing you.

Judge less, love more, talk to the people you don’t know, and get outside.

Channel your inner Mister Rogers and ask, “won’t you be my neighbor?”

More human companionship, less alone time, and less screen time. Trust me.

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