It is harder to crack a prejudice than an atom. - Albert Einstein
My neighbor yelled again from her front door. He, blond and small, continued digging at the hole he'd created in their yard and ignored her.
Dig, dig, dig.
Now he turned his back toward her, and continued pulling at the red Guam clay with his stick.
“All right, that’s IT! I’m counting now, so you’d better come! 1 banana, 2 banana….”
Shifting in my lawn chair, I watched my kids tool their bikes and tricycles up and down the sidewalk in the muggy heat. I knew she could reach 100 “bananas” and Duncan still wouldn’t respond. I'd heard different versions of this drama play out every day in the yard adjoining ours in base housing.
The words came more slowly now, as if she were pleading with the small child to please obey and not force her hand. Duncan now sprawled flat on his bottom and dug at the clay with his toes, clearly enjoying his mother’s discomfort. She stomped down the length of their yard, grabbed him up and carried him back into the house, him now howling and wiggling.
Passing within five feet of me on both the trip down and back, she made no eye contact with me nor acknowledged my presence. With anyone else, I would've exchanged a sympathetic glance or a "Yeah, I've been there" joke over dealing with naughty children. But I had long before ceased any attempts to engage her in the typical social niceties.
It was a frustrating situation for me, and one I never did completely understand. I'd always gotten along with our neighbors at previous assignments and we'd made some wonderful memories living on base. One of my favorite things is meeting and talking to new people, yet soon after we'd met, this neighbor began questioning me once she learned that we homeschooled. And not in a curious, want to learn more about it way, more of a...grilling.
Yet, no matter how many ways I answered her endless questions, our very presence seemed to be an affront. She was constantly on the defensive even though it was never me who initiated a discussion on schooling choices. And if she'd been simply curious, that would have been one thing--I'm used to that. This was different.
Even then, I recognized there were surely other issues at play in her life, and there was little I could do to simply get along with her. But it didn't make the strangeness any less.
While you might not have a neighbor in military housing who hates you on first sight like this one did, you will likely have your own challenges.
Military housing life usually equals fairly close quarters. Lifestyle choices can seem magnified, simply due to proximity. Shared common walls, shared yards—it can end up feeling like you have no privacy!
While there are some folks who won’t ever make good neighbors or friends, no matter how hard you try, there are a few things to make living on a military installation a bit easier.
As our family has lived in base housing more often than not over the past decade, here are some ideas for being neighborly and making life in military housing the best it can be!
- Introduce yourself to new neighbors, whether you’re moving in or they are. I try to bring some baked goods, but if that’s not possible, a simple hello and introduction is fine.
- Be respectful of others’ property. If you share a driveway or yard, do your best to keep your things (and family members!) on YOUR side if you haven’t agreed otherwise.
- Don’t be “that neighbor”: don’t always knock on the door, ask to borrow things, or assume that you’re best friends simply because you live next door to each other.
- Observe quiet hours. Turn down the noise after 10 p.m. Though it’s not always possible to be completely quiet, consider neighbors who are shift workers (i.e. don’t let your eight-year-old throw a ball against the house while they’re sleeping.)
- Keep your pets under control. If you have to ask whether it’s ok to let your doggie do its business in the neighbor’s yard just because there’s no fence dividing your spaces, then there are other questions you likely ought to be asking yourself.
- Respect boundaries and don't offer advice or commentary on someone else's life unless you're asked. Don't be a busybody. (Though it goes without saying this doesn't apply to abusive or unlawful behavior. In that case, you have a recourse with the housing office/military police).
- The most basic--treat others how you'd like to be treated!
- Have fun! Your on-base neighbors could end up being some of your dearest friends.
As far as my old neighbor? I still wonder which "banana" she's on now!
*Name changed to protect the annoying.
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