‘Mom, when are you and Tina going to make up? Just because you’re in a fight doesn’t mean we need to be,” my youngest daughter told me on the ride home from a new friend’s house. It was just the two of us, and while she had enjoyed spending the day with another friend, she would have preferred to be with our next door neighbors’ kids.
“We’re not in a fight,” I responded. “We just disagree about something that’s important to your father and me.”
“Maybe not a fight, but you’re avoiding her,” my daughter retorted. “We haven’t played with them in two weeks.” At the stoplight, I looked over at Sarah’s profile. As the baby of the family, she is often drowned out by her two older siblings’ voices. But now, at 10, she is coming into her own. And as hard as it was to hear, she was right.
The specific conflict involved a new event venue that had moved in across the street from our house. The issue at hand was noise. We came down on separate sides of the fence, so to speak, with them in favor of amplified outdoor entertainment and us opposed. Both of us shared our positions at a recent City Council meeting.
But aside from this difference in opinion, we also shared a 10-year-long relationship. The six kids between our two families had grown up together. How had I let this situation poison something that money can’t buy?
This conversation with Sarah happened at an opportune moment. The evening before, I had attended our monthly neighborhood meeting in which it was announced that a judge had just ruled to allow Louis Cherry and his wife Marsha Gordon to finish building their modernist home in the heart of Historic Oakwood. Without going into the nuance of the positions, the court fight was instigated by one group of neighbors opposed to the house; another group of neighbors had banded together to support it. The controversy had played out on national news.
Last Thursday, I looked around the room at the animosity that had hardened over the year of hearings, judgments and appeals. How had this happened? Some of these neighbors had lived next door to one another for more than a decade – in some cases even two or three.
Was defending these positions worth the price – a loss of a sense of community that had been built over many years? It made me immeasurably sad. And also ashamed. My behavior had not been that different.
“You’re right,” I told my daughter as we pulled up to the house. “I’m sorry.”
Fortuitously, Tina was just pulling into her house, too.
“Hello,” I waved and called from the porch.
“Hello,” she said as she waved back.
All day the next day, our kids ran back and forth between the yards while Tina and I worked outside. I offered to fix them lunch. She set up a teepee for them to eat it in. We were lucky that Sarah had forced the issue. I only wish something similar could happen in our wider neighborhood.
Liisa Ogburn of Raleigh writes and produces documentary work and teaches at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.