When it comes to my neighbors, I’ve been pretty lucky. A few years ago, we lived in a typical subdivision, on a cul-de-sac, with lots of neighbors. Having spent many, many years living in Florida and/or apartments, where neighbors rarely even acknowledge each other, I loved the suburban life – especially for my kids. I also came to appreciate the village it took to look after our son Barrett.
Barrett has autism and as he got older, he discovered that our backyard fence was easy to scale; that our door locks were easy to manipulate; and that there was a great big world out there, which we’d sheltered him from. Fortunately, we had kind and patient neighbors living on both sides. Both houses had empty-nesters, who in addition to always having an eye on everything, also seemed to find amusement in our little explorer. Before I even knew he was gone, my phone would ring with a call announcing, “Barrett’s outside!”
Once upon a time, Bear walked right past an adult (who will remain nameless, but it wasn’t me), on our back porch, while in his pajamas, as it was past bedtime. The adult was actually on an emergency business call, and honestly never saw Bear walk past. It was getting dark and Bear walked down the back steps, scaled the fence, went up the hill and entered the house of some neighbors with whom at the time we were still only acquaintances. Yep, he just opened their door and walked in, like Goldilocks.
I’m speculating as to what happened when he first entered, because the family was upstairs, but I know my boy and I’m fairly certain of what went down. He probably investigated the pantry, used the facilities and looked for a computer. Not satisfied with what he found, he ventured to the second floor. Once he got upstairs, I had eyewitnesses, so I’m now revealing the facts. He entered the family’s master bedroom, where mom, dad and three children, dressed in their jammies, were gathered on the bed for story time! My Bear got so excited; he jumped on the bed to join them.
Can you even imagine what that family, we’ll call them the Joneses, thought?
Back at the ranch, the adult on duty got a call. Talk about mortifying! I swear to God, my husband may have actually called a real-estate agent, because he told me he planning to have a “For Sale” going up in the yard the next morning.
Those neighbors were so understanding. Lucky for us (and Bear, who continued for years, to make many more uninvited appearances in their home), the Joneses became close family friends. Who knows? That may not have happened, if not for Bear’s breaking and entering.
My son has been caught with his hand in the neighbor’s cookie jars, literally. He’s hidden out in a neighbor’s basement, to play with their dogs. He’s streaked in the cul-de-sac – more than once. He’s tip-toed in the tulips. I’m telling you, I could go on and on (and on).
Now this may make us sound a bit incompetent, but we do have four children and it’s often hard to keep a beat on all of them, all of the time. And honestly, Bear has some serious stealth. It doesn’t just happen, he plans it. That being said, we did make attempts to secure the premises – I swear. Bear couldn’t be in the backyard alone and his siblings were instructed to keep an eye on him when they were. We also made both the front and back doors keyed locks, so the kids would have to ask us to open the door for them. The garage, still presented a problem, since the interior door did not have a key lock. We had a second refrigerator out there and shelves for pantry over-flow, so we didn’t want to put a key lock on the door for convenience sake. But we did put a lock box on the buttons that opened the exterior garage doors.
Well, accidents still sometimes happened. There were times when we’d forget to close the outside doors, or they were left open because the other kids were playing out front. So there were still opportunities for Bear.
Not all neighbors understood. One couple wasn’t very happy that Bear seemed to LOVE their backyard garden. And we did have to call 911, more than once, when he went missing, so we kind of developed a reputation as that family. Eventually, this factored into our decision to move (not exclusively, but we did relish the chance of a fresh start for Bear).
There was a short period of transition when we rented a house, which quite frankly left us very vulnerable on the Bear security front. There was a horrible incident when he went missing for quite a while, and I lost years off my life. I still can’t really talk about, because it was my fault. It was awful.
Then we found our dream house, with lots of land and space between the houses. The hope was that this would dissuade our little wanderer. Not so much. Another issue was that the new house had many doors, which meant multiple exits. I won’t bore you with all the different security scenarios we came up with, but we settled on keyed locks for all the exterior doors. Our doors are locked at all times – and yes, I do occasionally have nightmares about the dangers of that.
There were other inconveniences, as well. In the beginning, I was constantly losing my keys and it sucked when someone was at the front door and I couldn’t answer it. It was so embarrassing when a delivery man or a neighbor would ring the doorbell and I could see them and they could see me, but I couldn’t find my key to open the door. Then they would watch me panic, running around like a chicken without its head, looking for a key, all the while pleading with them to “hold on.” Or, I’d be in hurry to go somewhere and couldn’t kind the key. That’s why I started wearing a latchkey around my neck.
Full disclosure. If this sounds familiar to some of you, it’s because this is an abridged version of my “The Latchkey Mom Explained.”
We have since come up with fire escape plans and my thirteen year old has his own latchkey, and we have various keys hidden in strategic spots. All very complicated, but it works. I don’t want to jinx us, so I can’t come out and say what I want to say – but all is good!
And the Joneses, they’re still our friends, and probably will be for life – and Barrett adores them!
This post was part of the Finish the Sentence Friday blog hop. This week’s sentence was “When it comes to my neighbors….”
Kristi, from Finding Ninee
Stephanie, from Mommy, for Real
Allison, from Go Dansker Mom
Please show them the love!