A letter to my neighbours: "I know. I KNOW. We know. Sorry."

Emma Crowe.

By EMMA CROWE                              

My mum is a very smart woman. Full of wisdom. So insightful. She has all these great sayings, collected over the years and lovingly passed on to me and my four sisters.

You’re a people pleaser, but there’s just no pleasing some people.

 It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

 Look with your eyes, not with your mouth!

 And my favourite:

Our faults are the excesses of our virtues.

Can we just reflect on this one for a minute?  What a lovely way to think about the things that annoy us most in people.  Too loud?  Life of the party.  Messy? Creative genius.  Over-involved? Too caring.  Slobby? Relaxed.  Neurotic?  Brilliant attention to detail.

Mum’s sayings are spot on.  Apart from this one:

People don’t think about you nearly as much as you think they do.

That one is obviously wrong.

For example, I am quite certain that the people who live in the townhouses over our back fence spend a great deal of time thinking about me.

I mean, sure, it’s possible that they might be out on their balconies for some fresh air, or to eat al fresco, or to water their plants, or read the newspaper, or catch some sun, but it’s far more likely that they are out there to learn more about me. I’m pretty sure they are gradually constructing a picture of me, based on the sights and sounds coming from our home.

Raise my voice? Never!

I’ve taken to giving the neighbours as much information as possible to make sure they don’t get the wrong impression.  Mostly I do this by taking every opportunity to incorporate key messages into the nagging of the children.

This happens whether or not I can actually see any neighbours.

Tuesday. 8:13am

Opportunity to explain to neighbours that I don’t normally raise my voice:

“Now, as you know, I’ve asked you very nicely at least twenty times to please get dressed for school. This is why I am now raising my voice.  You know I don’t LIKE raising my voice. It’s very frustrating to find myself raising my voice and it’s not nice for our POOR NEIGHBOURS to have to listen to me raising my voice.”

Wednesday 9pm

Opportunity to explain to neighbours that I am aware that 9pm is pretty late for primary-school-aged children to go to bed:


“Okay, it’s time to come inside now and go to bed. YOU KNOW I DON’T NORMALLY LET YOU STAY UP PAST 8 O’CLOCK.”

Thursday 5pm 

Opportunity to explain to neighbours why there is a five-year-old crying loudly on the back step:

“Okay, you can come inside now.  You know why I put you IN TIME OUT on the back step, don’t you?  That’s right. You had three warnings but you kept hitting your brother. I’m sorry you are upset, BUT I WOULDN’T BE A GOOD MOTHER IF I LET YOU HIT YOUR BROTHER WITH NO CONSEQUENCES, WOULD I?”

Saturday 7am

Opportunity to explain to neighbours that I know they are there and I care very much about their quality of life:

In very loud whispering – “Get inside NOW!  Stop making so much noise!  People are trying to sleep.”

Everything’s peachy on this side of the fence!

Sunday 4pm

Opportunity to explain to neighbours that I care about the planet – after an hour of kids playing in the sprinkler, with my full knowledge:


Monday 8am

Opportunity to show neighbours that I am a great mum, who also happens to be community-minded:

“You know I Iike to encourage you to settle your disputes on your own, which is why I encourage you to take your conflicts to the back yard, but it’s been going on for twenty minutes now and you need to LEARN TO DO THIS QUIETLY because we have NEIGHBOURS.”

While I’m sure the neighbours really appreciate all these extra insights, there’s so much more I want them to know about me. Some things are just a bit too complex to yell over the back fence.

Thank god for the internet!  And how handy that open letters are back in style.

Dear Neighbours,

Hi. I’m that lady who lives in the house you can see from your balconies. Yes, THAT one. It would be great to meet you in person sometime, but meanwhile, I know you’ve been thinking about me a LOT and wondering about my life.

Let me fill in some of the gaps for you.  Hopefully this will help you piece together all those little bits of the domestic jigsaw puzzle that have been keeping you awake at night.

Let’s start with the big one.  Why all the clothes draped over our outdoor furniture all the time? 

What are the neighbours really thinking?

Well, sometimes I just don’t have time to hang out the washing properly. I’m busy you know. Busy, busy, busy. I know I don’t always look busy. No doubt you’ve noticed me standing in the kitchen for hours on end eating toast and listening to the radio. Yes, I have thought about putting radios in other rooms so that I can do other stuff while listening to the radio, but then I get too busy. See the dilemma?  Anyway, I’ve found that some things actually dry faster on the table than they do on the line.


While we’re on the topic of washing, I know my underwear look really HUGE, but let’s not forget that humans are three-dimensional. Also, a neighbourly tip:  I found out the hard way that underwear worn too tightly can cause unsightly  muffin top.

Now, about the trampoline.  It’s not that we don’t love our kids.  It’s just that the massive, gaping holes in the safety mesh can’t really be repaired. We do have plans to get a new trampoline, but in the meantime it’s such good exercise for the children, so we’ve decided to risk a broken limb. Childhood obesity is a big issue you know. We’ve had to weigh up the risks. Being a parent in the safety mesh age is tough. Please don’t judge us.

You may have seen me creeping out our back door in my exercise gear every Monday, Wednesday and Friday these past four years. I’ve been doing a group fitness class down at the park. It struck me recently that you must be wondering why I’m not looking any fitter. I’ve been wondering the same thing.

I’m sure you’ve heard the kids nagging us for a pet. No doubt you’ve noticed we don’t have a pet. You must think we’re terribly cruel. The thing is, we’re just not pet people. There’s obviously a recessive pet-loving gene there that’s  skipped a generation. We’re not pet-haters. We’re just ambivalent.  Pets deserve better than ambivalence, don’t you think?

 I fear that our recent barbeques may have given you the wrong impression about our political views. Please keep in mind that it’s almost always our loudest visitors who hold the views most different from ours. 

Yes, the eight-year-old has just taken up the trumpet.

I know. I KNOW. We know. Sorry.

And just one more little thing.  You might occasionally see a 39-year-old naked woman running along our back deck.  Here’s the thing.  Sometimes when I’m putting a load of washing on, I realise that I am still in my sweaty group fitness gear and I think I may as well throw it  in with the load that’s just gone on. It’s at that point that I find myself naked in the laundry, with a three-metre dash to the back door.  I know it’s not pretty. I know it’s not Nimbin. I’m so sorry. I’m especially sorry about that time the kids locked me out as a joke. That was embarrassing for all of us.

Emma Crowe works as a radio producer on Richard Glover’s Drive Program at 702 ABC Sydney three days a week. The rest of the week, you can find her driving a people mover around Sydney’s Northern Beaches. 

So what about you? Have the neighbours seen you doing anything they probably shouldn’t have?

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