Learning to say no
It ‘s unbelievable how naïve a young married mother with two young children can be. When I look back at those years in Roslyn, Pennsylvania, I cringe at how gullible I was and how often my neighbors took advantage of me.
Don Jr. and Doug were both pre-school little boys when we moved into that little two bedroom home. It was our first house and we were so proud of it, a nice new bungalow with hardwood floors, a fireplace and a landscaped lawn. After four years in a terrible bug infected apartment we were in seventh heaven. And then there were our neighbors.
On one side was another young mother with a couple of little girls. I was hanging out laundry the first time I saw her putting together a little plastic swimming pool. Once filled with water she put down a large towel and went into her house. She then carried – one by one – those adorable girls and put them in the water.
The children played with a couple of toys in the water and then the mother took them out — again one by one — dried them off and carried them into their house. Those youngsters were never allowed to set foot on the grass. Believe it or not, in the seven years we lived there; and our neighbor had another little girl; I never saw them playing out in that yard.
They didn’t get a chance to enjoy the sun, to play skip rope or climb a tree or act as little children. Heaven forbid when one of our boys let a ball bounce over in their yard and they had to go and retrieve it. Then there were the neighbors on the other side, I’ll call them Jean and Jim. Jean’s mother — a big German woman — often came for long visits.
The problem with them was they didn’t have a car during the day to go to the store, etc. Both of them expected me to drive for them. The first time it happened I was just going to the local market in Willow Grove, a few miles away. Jean and her mom came running out of the house the minute I put the boys in the car.
My car was a Ford convertible with seating for five, if you didn’t mind being crowded. It wasn’t comfortable, but we managed to get to the store and home with groceries in one piece. However, the problem persisted for days and weeks and months and not once did I get a chance to go anywhere without those two with us.
The last time I put up with this was when taking the boys to a department store to buy them new sneakers. Those women embarrassed me in the shoe department, the saleslady even rolling her eyes at their antics. When I got home Doug was crying and it turned out that the shoes I had bought were way too small. I hadn’t been paying attention to him, not with all that was happening.
I went outside with the boys again, and here came mother and daughter. I put up my hand and said no. Off we went to make the shoe exchange, without any neighbors. After the exchange I took the boys for an ice cream treat. Then it was time for the kids to go to school, and they were on split shifts, one going in the morning and the other in the afternoon.
After taking another lady’s boys with me in the morning, I brought them home then took another bunch to the afternoon session. The other boy’s dad picked the boys up in the late afternoon. Every day Doug would come home crying, the other boys’ father didn’t like Doug and made his trip home miserable. To add to this a new neighbor moved in and somebody invited yet another boy to ride in our car.
Not once did this new mother come out of her house to say a thank you. Suddenly I found I was taking five children back and forth like a bus service and I thought about what would happen, insurance wise, should we have an accident. I had had enough and told everybody no more rides. We were walking to school — a mile away — from now on.
It got to be easier and easier as I grew up and learned to say no. This concludes the second in my series about “neighbors.” There will be more.
Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer and columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org