A few months back I was experiencing a moral dilemma, and I posted about it on Facebook, asking folks to chime in with their thoughts. The kids next door, as long as I’ve lived here, have been throwing stuff in my yard—some things got here unintentionally, I know, but others were shot across the fence while I was actually in the yard working in the garden, and there was definitely mischief about. The kids never came over to get their stuff back, so I just started collecting it in the garage—especially after their three-foot-long Styrofoam glider landed in my yard. My dilemma concerned what to do with all that stuff upon my move from the premises. The comments of my friends on Facebook ranged from, ‘Just give them their stuff back; they’re just children!’ to private messages advising me to get Child Protective Services involved as the wild children certainly must have negligent parents, and every nuance of response in between.
My favorite response came from my beloved friend and former student, Josh Reed, who sent me a private message to gently and lovingly suggest that I exchange kindness for malice, returning the kids’ toys just before I left, perhaps with a note asking them to be nice to the new people moving in. It touched my heart so much that I decided that would be my tentative plan of action.
Today is Thursday. I move out on Saturday. This afternoon, I opened the garage, pulled the old lawn mower out and mowed the lawn for the last time (here, anyway). As I was edging with the trimmer, the two little elves from next door approached me. They’ve never spoken to me before. The ten-year-old (hereinafter referred to as Big Boy) let the five-year-old (hereinafter referred to as Little Boy) go first.
“Excuse me,” he said. I put down the trimmer and pulled up the painter’s mask I have to wear while doing yard work. Encouraged, he continued.
“Can we have our plane back? It flew in your yard. It was an accident!” he added quickly. “It went in there a long time ago but, um, we forgot to ask you for it and, um, our mom said we should ask you.” He gestured toward his driveway. Their mother stood there, shielding her eyes, watching out for her boys.
“I have your plane,” I told him. “And I have all the other stuff you’ve thrown in my yard. Little Boy looked hopeful. Big Boy suddenly looked alarmed… and a bit ashamed. “I’ll give it back to you,” I told them, “if you promise you won’t ever throw stuff in my yard or at my dog again.”
Simultaneously Little Boy happily exclaimed “Okay!” and Big Boy looked down at the sidewalk, putting a finger to his lips. Oh, what a tell! When my boys were little, this would be the point at which I would say, “You just told on yourself.”
“I think you know you threw some of those things on purpose.” I waited. Big Boy nodded his head, still staring at the sidewalk. I told them I would be moving on Saturday (they hadn’t known), and I made them promise they would be nice to the new people moving in and never throw things in the yard on purpose. Then together we walked to the garage, and I loaded them up with various balls and darts and toys and the longed-for glider. They could hardly carry it all, and they skipped back down the sidewalk to their own house. As I picked up the trimmer, I heard Little Boy recounting the story to his mom, telling her with great enthusiasm that they had promised they would be nice to the new neighbors and not throw things in their yard. Well, if Mama wasn’t aware of their behavior previously, she is now.
All’s well that ends well, eh? Thank you, Josh.