When Barrett Met the Neighbors


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….”


Our Hosts:
Kristi, from Finding Ninee
Stephanie, from Mommy, for Real
Allison, from Go Dansker Mom
Please show them the love!


How do you get along with your neighbors?

21 thoughts on “When Barrett Met the Neighbors”

  1. Oh this post has me smiling and tearing up. At the same time. You are such a good mom and yes, I know you had that one incident that you say was completely your fault, but still. You are one good momma. Take heart. I too am known as the crazy woman who can’t find the key to save herself. Many a time, people are patiently (or not) standing outside as they hear me sing out “Just a minute. Have to heh-heh find the key.” This escalates to a little less patient “One second. Still can’t find it!” Finally they get the full on ruder than rude “Where’s the damn key?” I’ve been known to zip out the back and whip around to the front to greet them. Just lovely.

  2. You. YOU YOU. You did SUCH a great job with this post – you did what I was hoping to do but ran out of time to do. First, you know that I relate to the neighbors, and omg, Bear running away into the neighbor’s house gives me laughs and knowing and also that big fear. You rock for sharing this, Allie. I hate that you had to call 911. But I love that it’s mostly good, now. And I wish I were your neighbor. I told Stephanie recently that I so wish she lived next door. I wish that you did, too.

    1. I know – it is funny, but so terrible and scary ta the same time! Because what if he walked into a home of a pedophile – right? I wish we were neighbors, too. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a “special” neighborhood? No explanations required!

  3. Oh, wow – an escape-artist-child must be quite the challenge! Thank goodness you had such helpful neighbors in your previous neighborhood. You sound like an amazing mom. It’s certainly never easy when you have multiple kids to watch out for, but your key system sounds like the best way to keep ’em all safe, even if it does make for some awkward situations with FedEx :)

  4. When it comes to my neighbors over the years, to some of them I’d like to give a high five. In the face. With a chair.
    But most of them have been my crutch through hard times– and times were tough for a long time. I’m not sure we would have survived without them. Xoxo

  5. I think it is awesome that the Jones were so cool about Bear. Bridget wanders/escapes too. She wears a Lo Jack locator on her wrist, if you want send me an e-mail and I will get you the info. It has been a way for us to sleep much easier.

    1. Thanks Kerri – I got you’re email. Barrett’s teacher gave me some information on this too. I’m going to try it. For a while we had a perimeter alarm on the property. Bear wore a band around his ankle and the alarm would go off in the house, if he broke the yards perimeter. Guess what – he got the band off! And put it on top of the alarm base. Swear to God. He can be such a little sh*& sometimes. Yet, I love the spunkiness!

  6. I’d be BFF’s with the Joneses too! I can only imagine how terrifying it must be for you when Bear wanders off, and good neighbors could be such a help. Your system sounds like a good one, Allie – I hope Bear always stays safe!

  7. Awww this was a wonderful post. I’m smiling like I just finished a good movie. Love having “latchkey” explained because I didn’t know that story. Like you said, we won’t jinx anything, but I hope everything remains all good. Love it that the Joneses are still your friends.

  8. Your neighbors (the Joneses) sound amazing.
    I think I snuck into a neighbor’s house when I was a kid and tried to find their leftover Halloween candy. Another year, I went trick-or-treating a week after Halloween. Those are stories for the blog, for sure!

  9. I truly hope that i am the type of person who, when a strange child wanders in to their upstairs bedroom at night, invites that child in to bed to read with them ❤ lovely narrative.

  10. Our oldest son, who is also on the spectrum, wasn’t a wanderer fortunately. But he still has a way of going up to strangers in public situations, and engaging them in conversations that make total sense to him but leave the strangers scratching their heads. By now, it is actually educational for me to watch how people react to my son. The kind ones get kinder when he’s there. The insecure or unpleasant ones walk away. Which is sooooo cool by me, because I really want to find the kind ones and say hello to them as well.

    Here’s hoping that Barrett will reduce his wandering over time — but that he retains his craftiness. It will stand him in good stead as he grows older!

    1. Thanks Anna. I am always interested in strangers’ reactions, as well. Barrett like to smell people’s hair. It tickles some, but completely offends others! It’s a pretty good litmus test, in my opinion.

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