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I stood there, stunned, as my neighbor yelled at my son for playing with a stick in our own yard.

Last year, my spouse and I took the plunge and purchased a house. While we were generally pleased with our new home, there was one aspect that left us somewhat uncertain—the backyard. It was entirely enclosed by a six-foot high privacy fence, with the exception of a small section that had chain link fencing. This particular portion belonged to a couple who didn’t have any children of their own but owned dogs. I couldn’t fathom why the previous homeowners didn’t enclose that section with privacy fencing, but according to what I gathered, they wanted more natural light in their yard, so they opted for chain link instead.

On this particular day, I found myself in the backyard with my energetic two-year-old son. He was gleefully playing and dancing around, wielding a stick as his pretend lawnmower. Our neighbors’ dogs were barking incessantly; I knew my son had captured their attention, as they could see him through the chain link fence. However, I paid little heed to the commotion, as these dogs were prone to barking relentlessly throughout the day. Their owners simply let them out, and the pups would romp and bark from dawn till dusk.

Honestly, the barking didn’t bother me much. After all, those poor pups were confined to a tiny yard and surely felt bored. I had never complained about it. In contrast, my yard was quite spacious—almost three times the size. As I observed my son happily engrossed in his play, swinging his stick and gleefully “mowing” down imaginary dandelions, I suddenly heard my neighbor’s voice. “HEY!” “STOP THAT!” “STOP!!!” she shouted.

In my naivety, I thought to myself, “Oh, they’re finally trying to calm down their dogs. How nice!” Ignoring the noise, I continued basking in the warmth of the sun, watching my son revel in his innocent imagination. My neighbor couldn’t see me; I was positioned at the far end of my yard, while my son frolicked in the open field of dandelions, just eight feet away from their fence. He paid no attention to the dogs, as he had grown accustomed to their constant barking.

Eventually, my neighbor walked up to the fence, leaned over, and yelled, “STOP THAT NOW!” Finally, the realization dawned on me—she wasn’t scolding her dogs for their excessive barking and fence-jumping; she was berating my son for playing in our own yard. Hastily, I started walking over to confirm my suspicions, which startled her when she noticed my presence. Her voice softened as she said, “Please get him to stop waving that stick around. It’s upsetting my dogs.”

What? Excuse me? My son was peacefully playing in his own backyard, not even two years old yet. His innocent act of brandishing a tiny twig, pretending to mow down dandelions, posed no threat or danger to her dogs. They were not only separated by a sturdy fence but also a considerable eight-foot distance. She spoke to my son as if he were some wild creature, only adjusting her tone once she realized I was there.

I responded with a simple, “I’m sorry, what was that?” She scoffed, said nothing more, and retreated back into her house, leaving her dogs outside.

My initial plan had been to extend our privacy fence for a more cohesive appearance. We had decided to honor the original owners’ choice of leaving that area open for better light flow. However, after this incident, I spent the entire afternoon scouring local listings for a reliable contractor. I refuse to let someone address my two-year-old son as if he were a disobedient animal. Enjoy your cold and enclosed yard; we’ll be making our own arrangements.