Thursday, July 03, 2008

The "Young" Childless Neighbours: Us

Sometimes I think back on how I used to classify the neighbours in my childhood communities. There were those who had kids, those whose kids were grown up and those young couples without kids. There was always a sense that the latter two groups were far less fun than the first, but that the "young couples" were the least approachable because, it was possible, they were not child-friendly people.

The "young couples" were usually more private people that we saw less of. Families always had someone out mowing a lawn or gardening or running under a sprinkler or building a dog house or tackling a brother or biking up or down the road covered in mud or playing baseball in someone's back yard or throwing tennis balls over a garage. These were very visible folks. "Young people", by contrast, were mysterious and, it was surmised, nocturnal, for we didn't see nearly as much of them outside during the day. As a child, I thought they must be grumpy, unapproachable people - a fairly unjustified assumption.

Now, however, I sometimes wonder if we've become the "young" childless couple on the block. We moved in and then no one saw us until the first heavy snowfall and we had to go out and clear our driveway. Dave walks Darren every day and Paul, even during the coldest of winter days, walks up and down the street in his shorts bringing Kathy's homemade baking (and persimmons) to various neighbours. But we hibernate.

And since we're the "young" childless couple, I wonder if we're regarded as grumpy and unapproachable by kids. And then I wondered if it is true.

For instance, one spring day, Mark and I were outside in our backyard patio area, building our patio furniture. For three hours, we listened to a boing-boing-boing-boing-boing on the driveway next to our yard, while a long-haired pre-teen bounced on his pogo stick. Up and down the driveway he bounced, without pause, for the entire afternoon. Mark looked about ready to stick the screwdriver into his eye socket by the end of it all. And I wondered, when did we become so annoyed with children? Aren't we teachers, after all?

Then, we were out eating supper at our new patio table, when we heard a different sort of BOING-BOING-BOING and saw children's faces appearing and disappearing over our back fence, staring intently at us and laughing maniacally. "A trampoline," Mark said with exasperation, "that's wonderful." To our further dismay, we soon discovered that our neighbours just across the way also had a trampoline and kids (and other friends of their kids) who loved to bounce on it and shreik with delight. When did children's shreiks of delight become so bothersome? Was it when we became the young, childless, nocturnal, poker-playing, beer-drinking, professional couple?

Sometimes, even in the late evening, we'll be lying in our bed and we'll turn off the television to go to bed and we'll hear the incessant boing-boing-boing-boing of the pogo stick. We'll wonder when pogo sticks became popular. We'll wonder if the boy is getting his recommended quota of exercise on the thing. We'll wonder if he aspires to join the pogo stick Olympics. Mark will get up and open the curtains and stare at him as he bounces and bounces and makes that excruciatingly persistent boing-boing-boing-ing. We'll fantasize out loud about waiting until everyone is asleep, or until the boy leaves it out on the front lawn to go in for dinner, and then running it over with our car.

Then one day, Mark was staring out the window at the neighbour's yard and he said, "You know. It's not the boy I should be upset with. It's the dad. He's an enabler."
"How so?" I asked.
"Well, he buys the kid these things. In fact, you'll never guess what he's giving the kid right now."
He shook his head in disbelief, "A unicycle!"

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