Paper-Thin Walls Let My Neighbors In On My Parenting Defects
The saying goes, they donâ€™t make â€™em like they used to, but our house was built more than 100 years ago and I reckon I could have done a better job. In fact, Iâ€™d like to invite the builder of our house â€“ or at least his living descendants â€“ to come over and experience what itâ€™s like to live with seven children and six adults. Because thatâ€™s how many roomies I feel like I have.
Four years ago we moved into a townhouse attached on both sides. Back then, our neighbors on one side had a small child the same age as ours; the other neighbor was pregnant. We all bonded quickly â€“ itâ€™s unusual in London to find yourself surrounded with like-minded people of a similar age. Since then, however, weâ€™ve multiplied. When you factor in all the house guests, nannies and cleaners in and out of our three houses, it sometimes feels as if we live in a tenement.
In summertime, when the windows are thrown open, my husband and I jump up when we hear a baby cry, even though often itâ€™s not our own. At night Iâ€™m sometimes awakened by a tantrum, but Iâ€™m too disoriented to know whoâ€™s letting it loose. Granted, more often than not, it seems to be coming from our own home.
Our quasi-communal living has started to affect my parenting â€“ and not always in a good way. Sure, I try to control my volume when I reach boiling point, and thatâ€™s a good thing for everyone when itâ€™s successful. But just as often Iâ€™m too quick to smother (figuratively, of course) the screams of my children when they really just need to let it out. Or banish them to a room at the core of the house where fewer people can hear. Iâ€™m just too self-conscious to be living within earshot of my closest neighbors.
I should be far too old to care much what other parents think about my parenting â€“ or my kids, for that matter. But the aural exchange on my block has worn me down. Often weâ€™ll run into the neighbors on our way out the door in the morning. Weâ€™ll exchange pleasantries and perhaps a joke about the kidsâ€™ imaginative get-ups, and then Iâ€™ll brace myself for the onslaught:
â€œSo, I gather somebody didnâ€™t get much shut-eye last night,â€ Iâ€™ll hear.
â€œWhat a surprise to see you this morning! I figured youâ€™d still be in bed after a night like that.â€
Theyâ€™re harmless comments, to be sure, but I have a special talent for distorting an innocent remark. Occasionally Iâ€™ll come out with a preemptive line about one of the kids contracting chicken pox, or the other getting a tooth.
â€œYes, we know,â€ theyâ€™ll respond. â€œWe heard.â€
I shouldnâ€™t let it get to me, I know. But itâ€™s hard for me not to detect a strain of judgment in those comments. Have I been cruel to let my children cry it out? Do I need to enroll myself in an anger management course? Am I letting my children walk all over me? Are we keeping up the neighborhood with our chaos?
Sometimes I think weâ€™ve been installed at this address to make other parents feel smug about their childrenâ€™s superlative sleep patterns or their own remarkable self-control. Other times I think of our paper-thin walls as a personal challenge: forget about keeping up â€“ or keeping it down, as it were â€“ with the Joneses. Just pretend they donâ€™t exist.
Still others I contemplate investing in sound-proofing. Our neighbors are already as good as they come, but if itâ€™s true what they say about good fences, it can only get better.