Several people have asked how playing with the neighbour’s kids is going, especially with 8 weeks of school holidays. My update, quite simply, is it’s NOT going – anywhere, zip, completo!
Hey, don’t judge me. I tried to embrace the experience. But have you ever tried to cuddle a cactus? Not fun. That’s what our neighbour kid experience was like.
I tried hard to tame the little darlings into creatures I could cope with. I was partially successful too. I trained them to only come over for a play one afternoon a week – Fridays 3pm – AND I taught them to ring the doorbell and not run off before I’d answered the door. These were major achievements which made the arrangement so much easier in general. As everyone knows, the worst part of neighbourhood play is the constant stream of kids at your house but I had managed to stem the flow based on my terms.
It would have been bliss – sort of – if the children themselves could be trained, as easily, to be delightful…or even just kinda acceptable. But I failed in that area. I couldn’t change them and I quickly discovered that I couldn’t keep my children immune from the ugliness that my neighbourhood kids spread around when they came to play. These children, well really only Master7, habitually lied (these were real doozies!), swore, bullied and excluded my eldest (because he wasn’t the right age to play with), openly disobeyed me (and lied when he got caught), exposed himself to my children and talked about things that were just plain inappropriate.
For a long while I struggled with how these children were affecting my own children, not wanting to be the neurotic overprotective mum. I discussed the behaviours with my boys and they could name the same undesirable things I was seeing. They could tell me that they didn’t like the way these children acted, some of the things they did and even the way it made them feel, but they were enjoying the play so much that they couldn’t bring themselves to stop the playdates.
It’s a tricky one for a mother’s heart. We dearly want our children to experience joy, but at what cost? Is it okay to feed our children sweets and let them stay up all night just because they enjoy it and you don’t want to be the bad guy? Oh how I struggled. My heart said to send these children away but my mind was still reluctant wondering what people would think and was it the right decision.
Christian friends who I sought advice from said,”Embrace them and love your neighbour”, yet others said, “Bad company corrupts good character”. Oh boy. How do we love them yet steer clear of them?? It started me pondering things like Christian versus non-Christian friendships and relationships. Do I encourage friendships with children from non-Christian families or families whose values are polar opposites to our own? What might these friendships look like when they are teenagers and the problems aren’t as trivial? Now I’m not talking about ostracising ourselves from non-believers, but just being cautious of those people we invite into our lives on a regular basis. If Master7 waves as we drive by we should kindly wave back, if he says ‘Hello’ we should courteously inquire about his day, if his mother needs a cup of sugar we should give her our very last cup, but shouldn’t we draw the line at handing our children over on a silver platter? Yes all of these things were running through my head for two long months.
Then one afternoon the decision making was brought to a dramatic precipice. All afternoon I was in and out reprimanding Master7 and reminding everyone of the rules. Master7 wanted to play babies so at the top of his lungs he was screeching like a banshee (blood pressure rises so I went out and asked everyone to remember that we need to be thoughtful of our neighbours as perhaps they’ve just put their babies down for a nap). Moments later, the toned down game returned to its previous noise level as Master7 demonstrated how the baby would urinate all over the ground (thankfully only imaginatively but enough to have me marching back out there to remind them that toilet games are not nice games). Next there was a ‘jump and kick the other person in the stomach’ type game on the trampoline. My boys were jumping and jiggling as Master7 demonstrated his kungfu karate kicks around the place but didn’t dare kick hence they soon became the targets. Jiggling quickly turned to yelling, “Stop” but he didn’t cease until I came rushing out to tell him it was a dangerous and unkind game. Master7 spun some untruth that attempted to draw the focus off himself and his actions. I suggested that they go and play in the sandpit so off they went. I’m not sure I’d got inside before I saw a stream of water shoot past from the hose around near the sandpit. This was a frequent issue we had with Master7. My boys know not to touch the hose without permission but Master7 would just wait for me to be out of sight and would turn it on, every time, to use in the sandpit and to just squirt someone. I heard Ethan tell Master7 that he’s not allowed to use the hose, and see him dash around the corner getting drenched. I was grumpy by this time but, with restraint, I sent Ethan inside to change his clothes, turned off the hose super tight, and sent Brayden to get crayons and paper so they could draw quietly…before I strangled the lot of them. The final straw was less then 5 minutes later. For that brief time they had been drawing nicely. My boys had drawn themselves with some of their friends, who happened to be girls. Then, (brace yourselves) Master7 began added his own filthy impression of their innocent friendships. Mumma Bear hurdled obstacles through the house to get out to the crime scene as quickly as possible, yelling “Oi!!!!!” like a banshee of her own making. I was livid! I told that kid how inappropriately he was speaking and asked him to pack up his belongings and head home. He pretended like nothing much had happened and began making playdate plans for the following week! I couldn’t believe it. I had to ask him to leave three times before he started heading for the gate. And that was the last time I allowed him in my home…although he knocked and asked to play every week for a month or so afterwards, even when he had been told that he had to find other children to play with.
I’m quite annoyed with myself for allowing the friendship to continue for as long as I did, despite my Mumma Bear instincts. However we have learned a lot from the experience. We have learned that neighbourhood friendships are potentially problemsome relationships due to the frequency of their visits. We have learned that selecting friends based on vicinity is not the wisest choice of friends for our children. We have learned that bad company DOES corrupt good character…especially ‘in training’ good characters. Consequently we have learned to be more thoughtful about our boys’ friendships – those we encourage and those we do not. Proverbs 13:20 says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” We want wise friends for our children…or at the very least, friends who are “in training towards wisdom”.