— December 3, 2022 —
t’s undeniably true that hell is other people.
I was upstairs working from our home office on Tuesday, November 29 when I heard my wife open the front door. The familiar squeak and slam of our metal mailbox signaled she’d stepped out on the front porch to check the mail. Moments later, she let out an exasperated sigh that ended with, “I knew someone was going to say something.”
Someone had stealthily placed a one-page, handwritten note in our mailbox. It read:
Would you please be considerate neighbors and take care of the leaves in your front yard. Your neighbors have all raked theirs, and now your leaves are blowing into our yards. We have raked our leaves, we shouldn’t have to rake yours.
Thank you very much.
It was an anonymous nasty-gram from the Lawn Police, the kind of note that makes you want to dropkick someone in the throat. My wife found the letter so petty she ripped it up and threw it in the trash. I retrieved it and taped it back together because when it comes to petty, I keep receipts.
The letter was triggering not only because of the assumptions embedded in its audacity, but because we’re cordial with the people on our block and have never had an encounter that could lead to lingering animosity. Naperville, Illinois is consistently ranked as one of the “Best Cities to Live in America” and, since moving here from Chicago in 2014, we’ve found this suburb to mostly live up to the hype. (Although I sometimes ask myself, “Best places to live for whom?”)
I’ll never understand why some people get off on monitoring and policing other people’s behavior. This Karen-esque, NIMBYs of Nextdoor entitlement is disturbing.
Any of our neighbors could have simply knocked on our door and said, “Hey, I noticed you haven’t been able to rake. Is everything okay?” They would have learned why our yard was unusually full of leaves compared to years past: we’d been taken down by Covid. We simply didn’t have the energy to do it. That’s how I know this letter was from someone we don’t have regular contact with, someone I imagine sitting at a window, staring at our lawn, passing judgment.
Lives Over Leaves
The letter was an annoying reminder of the chore we’d intended to take care of before we were sick. We spent the month of November recovering from Covid and a sinus infection on the heels of it, with just enough verve to work, parent, and transport our daughter to and from her therapy sessions at the autism clinic. As a result, we missed the dates for Naperville’s leaf collection program where residents can dispose of fallen leaves by simply raking them to the curb.
We didn’t need a finger-wagging letter to remind us.
Exhibit A: Nasty-gram
On the day the letter arrived, we’d sent our daughter off on a school field trip to the Museum of Science and Industry where her paralyzing phobia about using public restrooms would be tested. A dear fraternity brother who’s been battling stage 4 colon cancer texted to say we should catch up soon. I had a quarterly care call scheduled about the declining health of my elderly father who resides in a nursing home. That day, I was more concerned about lives than leaves.
So if you’re reading this, Lawn Police, here’s my letter in response:
Would you please be considerate enough to extend grace to your neighbors? You never know what someone is going through.
Sorry for not raking my leaves. My wife and I have been recovering from Covid.
Sorry for not raking my leaves. My daughter has special needs and requires my full attention.
Sorry for not raking my leaves. I’d taken time to pray for a loved one’s health and healing.
Sorry for not raking my leaves. I’m the Power of Attorney for my father whose health is failing.
If my leaves are a nuisance to you, please turn your head or offer to help—that would be the neighborly thing to do.
I’ll never understand why some people get off on monitoring and policing other people’s behavior. This Karen-esque, NIMBYs of Nextdoor entitlement is disturbing. To say nothing of the fact that we’re the only Black family on the block.
A Rake Date
Two days after the nasty-gram, my wife and I spent three hours raking and bagging the leaves in our yard ahead of the city’s Dec. 16 cutoff for free yard waste collection. We jokingly called it a “rake date” because we had fun tackling the long-delayed chore.
It just so happened the postal carrier for our neighborhood was making his rounds while we were outside. I stopped him and inquired if he’d been asked by a neighbor to place a letter in our mailbox. I was curious because when I reviewed the Nov. 29 video footage from our Ring doorbell camera, he was the only person that day to place items in our mailbox. That was at 2 p.m. At 2:54 p.m., my wife can be seen opening the mailbox and pulling out the mail along with a mysterious white letter on top.
Our carrier, a young good-natured man, assured me he would never put his job at risk by delivering unofficial mail. After I shared details about the letter’s content, our carrier said he had a hunch of who may have sent the letter and added, “they’ve done this before.” I didn’t press him further as he was in the middle of his route and my wife and I had many more leaves to bag. I thanked him for the intel.
The chat with our carrier prompted me to review the Ring footage a second time. I wanted to see if he was telling the truth. This time I zoomed in on his hands as he turned the mail over to deposit it in our mailbox. No nasty-gram is visible. Fifty four minutes later, my wife discovers the letter.
What happened during those 54 unrecorded minutes? On Nov. 29 I heard the familiar squeak and slam of our mailbox being opened twice before my wife went outside, but we only have Ring footage of it being opened once. Did someone use a WiFi jamming device to prevent our camera from capturing the nasty-gram delivery? If so, why?
Parents of children with special needs know to celebrate every victory because each is hard won.
As it turns out, it’s a crime for anyone to access a mailbox except for an official postal service employee or the owner of the mailbox. Anyone else who opens the box or puts anything inside of it is committing a criminal act under the federal Mailbox Restriction Law. Under current law, a violation can be punished by a fine of up to $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for organizations.
We’ve reported the incident to the appropriate authorities. Like I said, I keep receipts.
What Really Matters
If there’s a silver lining in the events of the past week it’s this: the nasty-gram was further confirmation that my wife and I have our priorities straight.
We’ve always focused on what truly matters—supporting our daughter’s growth and development. We’ve found a high degree of awareness about autism and disabilities in Naperville along with a plethora of resources and services to help our daughter reach her full potential. That’s the main reason we’re here.
About five minutes after reading the nasty-gram, my wife left home to pick our daughter up from afterschool daycare and take her to an autism clinic where, among other things, therapists have helped build her tolerance for using public restrooms.
“Mommy, I used the bathroom and flushed the toilet!” our daughter excitedly shared when my wife arrived at daycare. As we’d hoped, she conquered her public restroom fear, her dry clothes a testament to her triumph.
It may sound like a small victory, but parents of children with special needs know to celebrate every victory because each is hard won.
Seasons change. Leaves die. But cherishing the living is everlasting.
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