This is a partial repost of a parenting article I wrote in 2007.
It’s not like we didn’t already have a fenced-in yard. We did. And our land continued beyond the fence. Like the rest of our neighbors here in the flats, we believed the high ridge above us was designated open space, meaning that everyone can enjoy the land and it can’t be developed. For decades, we boasted to out-of-town visitors how that ridge would forever remain untouched by contractors. Our bragging increased our Happiness Quotient (aka HapQ) though I’m sure it decreased our guests’ HapQ, which decreases my own now that I think of it.
When a section of the ridge behind us was sold (because it wasn’t actually open space) we were unhappy. When a massive house was built up there, we were bummed.
But hey, no one can be happy all the time, right? So we breathed and we made our peace.
A few years back, I was hanging out with my dog by our bay tree. We were on our land but outside our fence. Suddenly our neighbor swooped down like a ringwraith with acid reflux.
Admittedly, I’ve led a sheltered life, but I’ve watch enough reality TV to be pretty sure that “Get off my $#@%$ property or I’ll shoot your $#@%$ dog” qualifies as harassment. Adrenalin pumping, mind a blur, I high-tailed it into the house.
Whoever said “Words can never hurt me” was either lying or hearing impaired. Words can pierce your heart and set up camp in your mind where they continue stinging like time-released poison darts.
For the next two years, every time I stepped into my garden I was visited by the ghost of Ringwraith. I never actually saw him again, but I felt trapped by my unspoken fear and a growing resentment. Just as I got completely fed up with myself for being such a wimp, our apple tree died. Naturally I had to delete it, so I hacked back the offending limbs but lacked the muscle to finish the job. Soon after, the apricot tree failed and I called the Tree Guy. He rid my garden of deadwood and planted a new apple tree. I was so happy I started dreaming aloud about extending our current fence to create more enclosed space in which to garden and plant trees. Turns out Tree Guy’s brother is Fence Guy. What luck!
When Fence Guy showed up Ringwraith reappeared. He wasn’t happy about our new fence, but Fence Guy was philosophical, “Someone is always not happy.” True, but someone isn’t always unhappy with me and when they are, that makes me very unhappy.
Things with Ringwraith got dicey. I went to scary places in my mind and couldn’t find the off-ramp. So I walked. I breathed. I ate embarrassing amounts of very dark chocolate. I remained in child’s pose for hours at a time. Nothing helped. Even after 8 years of yoga and meditation I could not get happier or calmer. So I resorted to Annie-bashing. You heard me. Not only was I dealing with the stress of an unhappy neighbor, and my constant fear of his reprisals, I was beating myself up for not being able to breathe my way back to Normal Life. My tower of unhappiness reached new heights daily.
Then presto… life returned to Good.
I wish I could say I had a moment of enlightenment that suddenly made everything all right. But I didn’t. We just built our fence like we planned. That was it. Now that the fence is up, so’s my Happiness Quotient. Oh, and we haven’t seen our neighbor. I don’t think it would bother me as much if we did.
Soon afterwards, under the full moon, I stood tall by my bay tree. I felt safe and strong and completely at home – light years from two years ago in that spot. Was it really just a bunch of fence posts and a couple of rolls of wire that made the difference? Or had I somehow made myself safer the moment I decided I’d had it with being intimidated? I really can’t say.
I also can’t say exactly what all this has to do with parenting. Except that sometimes we just have to tough it out. And so do our kids. We can’t always help them up when they’re down. Maybe the best we can do is remind them that someone is always not happy, and right now it’s their turn. On the other hand, tomorrow it could be their turn to be happy again. Just knowing that might help.