The sound of children laughing

Maxwell and Sam in Los Angeles, circa 1990.

I recently remarked to a friend the pleasure I get living in a neighborhood where there are young kids.

“Not just kids on vacation, “ I said, “but kids who live here.” Given the state of the world, it’s easy enough to feel grim. So I look for bits of joy where I can. It’s joyful to me to hear and see children playing. I’m a great candidate to live next door to a playground. True, young voices can be shrill. They can be loud. But hey, my husband plays the saxophone, which, depending on your mood, is noise or a joyful sound.

Prior to moving to the Pacific Northwest, for 20-plus years we lived in a family neighborhood. It was a great town to raise kids. On our street, the kids ranged in age from newborn infants to kids heading off to college. A great thing was there was always a responsible teenager around available for babysitting.

Some people object to living in close proximity to kids. That’s why retirement communities were created. Some people don’t care for the sound of raucous laughter, joyful screaming, or balls bounced into their yard. They say these sounds interrupt their reading or their peaceful gardening. They regard these sounds as noise.

Our first home in L.A. was an adorable, tiny cottage in Venice Beach with a fenced-in yard. The house had a second rental unit, an apartment over a detached garage. A guy in his 30s lived in it; he had to pass through the yard to get to the shared laundry, otherwise we were assured of the yard’s exclusive use. So I was none too pleased within 24 hours of moving in, the man came over to tell me to keep my son indoors. “I cannot stand the sound of children laughing,” he said warningly. I crossed my arms over my chest and said, “Not happening. ”

A few weeks later, my son asked if a little girl he liked at his preschool could come over. They played in the back yard which had grass and a little shaded area where I’d set up a child sized table and chairs for their snack. I’d just handed them juice boxes and oatmeal cookies before stepping inside to get dinner going. From the kitchen window, I could see the backyard. I wasn’t inside two minutes when my son and his little friend appeared at the kitchen door. They were very excited.

“Mommy that man says he has a gun and he’ll shoot us if we don’t stop laughing,” my son said.

I dropped the potato I was peeling and rushed outside. There was our neighbor, brandishing a pistol.

“I told you I cannot stand the sound of children laughing, “ he said again. I pulled the children inside and called the police who showed up a remarkable four hours later. After a brief conversation, they said the man would probably continue to make threats and there was no way of predicting if he would shoot a kid. They advised me to move, which we did.

Years later as I write this in my Seaside backyard, over the back fence the father of three kids admonished his daughter to be quiet. The girl, who is about 10, and the boy, who is about 7, were playing a game. They were laughing uproariously. “Nobody wants to hear that noise,” he said.

I know they have a toddler who probably takes afternoon naps, and that is probably why he shushed her. Still, it took all my self-control not to call out to him, “Please don’t tell her to be quiet on my behalf.”

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