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SHANNON STAPLETON/Reuters

The question

Our neighbours have two children, aged 5 and 6. Their mother lets them out at 10 or 11 every morning. From that point forward until dark, there is non-stop random screaming. At one point the grandfather took them aside and told them to stop screaming but he is gone and the kids are back to screaming again. The parents have the attitude that “kids will be kids” and won’t act responsibly. Can I or should I get authorities involved?

The answer

I have to say “getting authorities involved” is a bit hard to picture in this case.

Unless there’s some sort of health or safety issue. Part of the lore of my wife’s family is her mom was, in general, really annoyed at the carryings-on of her neighbour’s kids, but then one day heard an “extra shrill” cry from the daughter, went to investigate and discovered the son face down in the family’s backyard pond – and saved his life!

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Apocryphal? It’s possible. In any case, the moral here is clearly: Safety first. And maybe also: Keep your ears peeled for any “extra shrill” cries in the vicinity. You too could save a life.

But as far as your main complaint, municipal bylaws tend to be fairly quiet when it comes to diurnal, as opposed to nocturnal, noise pollution. (As a sometime night-shifter, don’t get me started on how “night shift-ist” this is.)

Regardless, why would you want to invoke them? You don’t mention your personal circumstances – for example, whether you work from home and are involved in numerous conference calls and/or Zoom-type meetings, in which case, yes, definitely have a quiet word with the neighbours.

If that’s not the case, then, in the words of, I believe, Linda Creed (famously covered by Whitney Houston), “let the children’s laughter/remind us how we used to be.” I love the sound of kids playing (up to a point).

Your letter also brings up an interesting point: Over the years I’ve noticed I get more questions about neighbours and family members than any other kind. The reason for this, I think, is fairly simple: You can’t choose either.

But, outside of your personal “bubble,” a.k.a. “household,” it is possible to avoid family members. (Now more than ever. “Sorry, Uncle Theo, I’d love to help you move your couch. Unfortunately, times being what they are, sadly, I can’t swing it.”)

Neighbours, though, are a horse of a different colour. And with more people staying put and working from home than ever, it behooves us to get along with them.

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And to be patient, compassionate and understanding. We’re all climbing the walls, these days. Those of us who have children, especially young children, are tearing out our hair as they climb the walls, leaving chocolate smudges (or worse) in their wake.

These statements are true not only of 2020 in general, but of this particular month.

At our house, we’ve just received word that our school-aged child will not be returning to class anytime soon. Thus, there will be Scrabble. There will be Boggle. Perhaps even Jenga, if we’re feeling adventurous. Maybe even chess – an activity for which our family’s interest has been reignited by the TV show The Queen’s Gambit.

Speaking of, there will be TV. Oh, there will be TV – until our eyeballs feel like fresh implants, like grave-robbed body parts exhumed by a hunchback in some sort of terrible Frankensteinian experiment.

My point being: We’ve all become time-killers. Minute murderers. Hour assassins.

So – and this may be crazy, Quixotic, idealistic – but if it happens you have some free time and extra energy (and why do I have the funny feeling this may be the case?), perhaps rather than excoriating your neighbours and calling the authorities, you could offer to help, pitch in, maybe even form a relationship with the self-same children you are finding so annoying and enervating. As the Golden Rule sort of states: “Do unto other peoples’ kids that which you wish other people would do unto your own offspring.”

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Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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