I've been having a hard time living in a neighborhood as it is. I'm a country girl at heart. My favorite view is a field with a horse in it. I like dirt under my fingernails and being able to tromp around in boots with my PJ's tucked into them. I do best with breathing space. Seclusion. Silence. Getting used to living in tight quarters with my neighbors at arm's length has been a growing process this past year.
Especially when one of your neighbors is a bully.
We have had only a couple of encounters with this man. Yes, he is a grown man, a dad with two boys, a lacrosse coach, and a policeman. One would assume that with these characteristics he would be a gentleman, an understanding and kind neighbor. The type of person you want living right next to you.
I always waved, smiled and said hi because that's what neighbors do. When these gestures were never reciprocated, I should have suspected something was amiss.
We have lived in this house for one year, and my only encounters with this man have involved him very harshly blaming my sons of being just boys on multiple occasions. He has complained to me that they’re too loud, they’ve punched his 14-year-old son, they’ve tossed rocks in his yard, and have stolen expensive balls right out of his garage. On top of their “terrible behavior”, he finally accused me of leaving my children unattended. He said he sees my 4-year-old out by himself all the time.
None of these things have really been corroborated...it's his word against mine. My 6-year-old has his side of the stories, too. The 14-year-old shoved him into the street, so he punched back. He found a ball in the bushes and started playing with it, but never went into his garage. And my younger son rides his bike on the sidewalk without me hovering because we live in Newberg, Oregon, for goodness sake…not downtown LA!
When I said that I didn't believe any of these things were happening (but if they were we'd certainly make amends), he accused me of lying. An adult, a dad, telling me to my face that I’m lying.
I'm a strong mom. I train hard, I run my own business, I use discipline, perseverance, and can juggle quite a few situations all at the same time. But I'm also gentle, peaceful, and considerate of others. These confrontations with him had me on my heels. I was caught off guard and could feel the heat rising in my blood. I cried afterward. He made me feel small, guilty, timid, and vulnerable. I immediately just wanted to apologize and assume the worst about my kids and cower in a corner.
These situations are never black and white, are they? There is rarely a distinct right and wrong, just a gut feeling. You question yourself and wonder if you're overreacting. You doubt your choices and all the thousands of choices leading up to those choices. This parenting thing gets really mushy at times.... Do I defend my kids from this adult bully, or assume this guy’s right and my kids need punishment?
And maybe he is right. It's easy to start adding up your faults.
I was reminded of the time my younger son locked himself out of the house while I was in the shower and he stood crying outside in the rain...
the time the principal called because my other son was dancing inappropriately at school...
the times I let my babies cry it out because I couldn’t hold screaming babies anymore...
or wandering through the grocery store with a 4 year old meltdown because there were no free bananas...
There's a tally in your head. The bad mom tally. All the failures.
And for some reason, this man standing there was making me feel like a bigger failure.
This is what bullies do. It's classic bully behavior. They single out someone apparently weaker than them and repeatedly assault them. With words, emotions, and of course physical contact. My husband noticed it before I did. This man never brought his complaints to my husband...only to me. He confronted me, the mom. The more vulnerable individual. And Scott was furious. After the final confrontation, he promptly marched over, banged on the door, and told him "you are NOT to speak to my wife again. If you have a problem, come talk to ME." (Swoon…every woman wants a man to defend her!)
So here we find ourselves living next door to a “bad man”. Unfortunately, the kids have started saying “Drew’s dad is mean.” There have been many teaching opportunities in this circumstance…conversations about bullies, how to recognize if someone is bullying you, how to be strong but still kind, how to love your enemies, and how to ask Jesus to help you treat others the way He wants us to treat them. We have been firm with the kids to not provoke him, to give him no cause for accusation, to give him a wide berth.
It’s sad to me that we have to avoid our neighbor. But it really helped when I recognized that he was a bully. I could see his words for what they were, and not just take them personally. I could be strong in my identity and could pray for him. It has taken a long time for me to forgive him and let all these things go, but I have (well sort of…still working on it, I think.)
Next week, we’re moving. This little house here in this neighborhood is getting packed up and we’re heading to our own little piece of property 40 minutes away. We’ll have the quite space and seclusion that we love.
The year we spent in this neighborhood will be a blip on the radar, but I think it served a purpose. God taught us something here. He taught me something here. He taught me that bullies can come in all shapes and sizes. He taught me how to be strong, when I’d rather cower in shame and guilt. And He taught me what true kindness and forgiveness is… it’s when it must be given to those you least want to give it to.
“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you...
Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful."
Luke 6:27-28, 35-36
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