I woke up with the massive headache I’d had for over 24 hours. My one year old daughter, Sienna, had woken and was standing in her crib yelling for “Dada” (daddy) as loud as should could. I chuckled at her lack of patience as I climbed out of bed.
Opening her door, I greeted her with an enthusiastic “good morning” and was given a glare and a little smile.
“Daddy’s at work, sweetheart. He’ll be home later.” She thought for a moment and then reached her arms up for me to pick her up. She fussed as I changed her diaper.
Downstairs, she walked over to the front window and indicated that she wanted me to open the shades. When I did, I noticed that an animal had gotten into our garbage and shreds of trash were strewn across our lawn, into the street, and in the neighbor’s yard.
It always annoyed me that my husband put the garbage out by the road in trash bags instead of placing the trash bags in our garbage can. I texted him to tell him what had happened, partly out of annoyance.
“Make sure to pick it up right away so we don’t get in trouble,” he responded.
How can I manage picking up garbage right next to the street with a one year old along? And then the solution popped into my head—I would put her in her red Radio Flyer wagon and pull her along with me while I pushed the garbage can with my other hand, this way she couldn’t run into the street.
My hair was messy, having just woken up, and the little one was still in her purple elephant pattern pajamas. We trekked out to the street and I knelt down to begin picking up the remains of food, paper towels, and who knows what else, which was already being consumed by bugs.
This is so disgusting. Yuck! It had just rained and everything was soggy, smelly, and full of flies and ants.
The neighbor’s white garage door began to rumble open as Sienna chattered happily in the wagon.
Each morning our elderly neighbors left their home in town to go to their farmhouse. But this was two hours earlier than normal.
Mr. Neighbor had just recently either decided to be friendly with us again (after being mad at us for a few years over the fact that our walnut tree “got walnut juice” on his siding) or he had forgotten due to old age, probably the latter.
Clutching his brown cane, wearing brand new overalls, a white undershirt, worn brown work boots, and a tired green seed corn hat, he limped down his driveway with purpose.
“I saw the dog that did that,” he said as if he had been anticipating this conversation for a lifetime.
“Yep,” he said pointing to another neighbor’s house, “They never keep that dog tied up.”
“Oh I see,” I said with a smile, thinking of the other neighbor’s brand new puppy.
“You should really call the police about this,” he said angrily.
I glanced up at him from where I was picking up trash to see if he was serious. His piercing blue eyes told me he was dead serious.
“Well, we should really put our trash into a can so that animals can’t get to it. It’s really our fault,” I said, trying to smooth it over as I continued picking up a rotten onion.
“I can’t believe you’re going to stand for this. It’s a law to keep your dog tied up and they’re breaking the law. I just can’t believe you’re not going to call the police,” he growled.
I was taken aback and frantically tried to think of how to respond. A million thoughts ran through my head.
It’s not worth creating conflict with the other neighbors over their puppy getting into our trash one time.
I can’t believe he’s serious about this.
How can I make him go away?
How can I calm him down and help him to understand that this isn’t a big deal?
“It’s ok,” I said with a smile, we’ll make sure to put our trash in a can from now on.
Anger rushed across his face as he turned to walk back to his house but then turned back around.
“This is going to happen again, you know. Do you want the dog to keep getting into your trash? You need to call the police and do something about this,” he tried to persuade me.
Sienna was silent, just staring and watching this all unfold.
I’m trying my best. Can’t he see that?
Just breathe. My anxiety was rising because conflict bothers me to the very core.
I continued to pull the wagon with me as I picked up the trash and stuffed it into a new sack. He pointed out everywhere that the trash had been scattered by the wind.
“There’s trash over there, and there, and way over there too,” he growled.
“Yeah, I’ll pick it all up,” I assured him.
He limped across the street to where an empty Mountain Dew bottle rested against the curb. He kicked the bottle across the street to me as if it were a soccer ball.
“Thanks,” I said as I placed all of the trash into the can.
He began walking back to his house with no word.
“Have a good day,” I said, trying to cheer him up.
“Well, how can I have a good day after this? You’re just going to let them get away with this. This is ridiculous!”
“Try not to let it ruin your day. I’ll tell my husband about it,” I said, not knowing what else to say.
“Ok,” he said with relief.
I pulled the wagon into the garage and stood for a moment with my hand over my eyes and took a deep breath.
It’s ok. It’s ok.
How can someone be so unhappy like that?
How is something like this worth the cost of his peace?
I looked down at Sienna and realized she had seen and heard it all. She may not have understood what was happening, but her silence indicated that she definitely knew there was conflict.
“I love you,” I said wearily as I gave her a kiss on the forehead.