As I stood in the kitchen chopping up veggies for the soup I was making to ease my three-year-old son’s croup, I saw a figure flash past the back door.
My first thought was, “oh, my husband must have come home early to take over sick child duties”. But it wasn’t my husband, it didn’t look even remotely like him apart from the bike helmet. Brains scramble to make sense, to find familiarity in the messiness.
I quickly realised that the figure wasn’t someone familiar to me, it was a stranger trying to break into our house.
My primal instincts kicked in quickly, I started to speak slowly and purposefully to my son who was sitting on the bench across from me. “Quickly, come here and hide behind the bench”.
I could hear the strange figure move around the back of my house, checking for a weakness. My mind was racing. Should I grab my child and run, or should we keep hiding? I opened the front door and then closed it, unsure of the best option.
A reassuring voice on the end of the phone told me to stay, the police were on their way. But the figure was persistent. Now I could hear them rattling at my son’s bedroom window. I wanted them to know we were home.
With a calm I rarely conjure in stressful parenting moments, I quietly told my son to keep hiding and equally unusual, he listened.
I walked to the bedroom and was face to face with the figure. As they pumped my son’s toy gardening shovel into the gap they had created in the window, I yelled, “I’m here!”. They saw me. The adrenalin was flowing now. They appeared at the front door, scrambling to get away. Fight set in, and now I was yelling expletives behind them.
Moments later, the police arrived and then quickly left in pursuit. I turned to my son, who had mostly been shielded by my calm exterior, before the shouting. I explained that someone who was not invited had tried to come to our home. He said, “That’s disappointing”, and it was.
This was winter 2019. While our experience was minor in the scale of violence that is perpetrated against women (mostly by people known to them in their own homes), it was scary for us.
For months afterwards, we had to debrief our son about the figure and his motives. We had to unpack the good guy, bad guy narrative the burly police officers had offered when they returned to our house that day.
When the detectives came by to take my statement or provide us with an update, we made sure my son wasn’t home. He wouldn’t sleep in his room until the security shutters the insurance didn’t cover had been installed.
Two things strike me about that experience now.
First, it wasn’t until the female crime scene investigator arrived later in the day to take photographs that someone asked me and my son how we were. She talked directly to my son and said, “That must have been scary”. She offered him some of her prized stickers. My fight was eased by her tend and befriend, the more feminine way of responding to stress. My adrenaline gave way to emotion.
Second, no one heard me when I was shouting at the figure because everyone was somewhere else. Our suburbs in 2019 were mostly empty; we all left from 8am-5pm to go elsewhere, for school and work. Figures like the one who visited my house had the run of the suburbs. There was no one to notice their unusual presence. As a stay-at-home mum, I was an anomaly the figure hadn’t anticipated.
It’s the summer of 2022. I’m a stay-at-home mum again with another sick child. I have the windows and doors open to let the fresh air in. I hear my neighbour talking to another local; the older fellow has broken his foot. He’s providing a blow-by-blow account of the incident and how he’s coping. The guys laugh. I hear the gate clatter as the older gent hobbles out.
On the other side, my neighbour is home caring for his beloved dog, who is in the final stages of life. I hear him come out to toilet, the fading companion from time to time. When my little one hears their back door open, he shouts out to them. My neighbour throws one of our wayward balls back to us. My little one yells, “TA!” over the fence.
Today, someone would hear me if I was shouting, calling for help as I did on that cold winter’s day in 2019. Both sets of neighbours now work from home regularly. My husband works from home two days a week too. When I walk the neighbourhood with my son, people are at home. They are taking a phone call in the sun. They are taking the bins in during a short break between calls. They are there.
The Conversation reported in 2020 that “with people remaining indoors, houses are better guarded so domestic burglars and car thieves are more conspicuous, and neighbours are more available to spot them”. However, they highlighted that being at home also increases the chance of domestic and family violence. I acknowledge that not everyone finds safety in their home.
Despite virus cases rising by the day, and despite the reported gains to families, employees, and employers, through the increased access to flexibility and productivity, many employees are being called back to the office.
Employers seem to be quickly forgetting the lessons of the pandemic. How managing commutes, care and the mental load was easier for families with extra time in the day. Time to say hi to your neighbours, put a load of washing on the line, time to take a phone call in the sun.
Not only does flexible work offer more time to connect with your family and local neighbourhood, but it also eases the impact commuting has on the environment. The Climate Council says, “Transport is Australia’s third-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions (96MtCO2e per year, 17% of total emissions) (Australian Government 2017a)” and, “Transport emissions have grown more than any other sector, increasing nearly 60% since 1990 (Australian Government 2017a)”.
Being present in our neighbourhoods also allows people to think about the role of the local area and its impact on our day-to-day lives. During lockdowns, we were all grateful for local walking paths, trees and places to sit and watch the world go by.
We noticed if a tree was being cut down, we noticed if a bench had been vandalised, and we noticed if strange figures were hanging around our neighbour’s driveway.
Not all neighbourhoods are equal, and not everyone finds safety in theirs. Still, the importance of local neighbourhoods will grow as we continue to be impacted by viruses and the climate crisis. Our local neighbours and streets will provide connections and hopefully resilience.
Let’s build the systems now. Systems like fast, reliable and affordable internet; quality green spaces and walking and cycling paths; local social infrastructure like accessible and affordable childcare, education and healthcare; affordable and adaptable housing options for everyone from cradle to grave; and secure, flexible work which allows us time to connect with our families, our neighbours and ourselves. Additionally, a liveable social security income is vital for those without paid work.
Investment in local neighbourhoods is what I want from my elected representatives in this year of elections.
Join the call for investment in local neighbours by contacting your elected representatives at a local, state or federal level. Connect with others that are advocating for change, like Australian Parents for Climate Action or The Parenthood.
Visit the Election Commission SA to search for your local candidates and elected representatives.
If you love local, perhaps you’d like to consider running in the local government elections this year. Nominations open on 23 August 2022 – click here for more details.