Marjorie Brimley's backyard in Washington DC
Things That Suck

No Ma’am

I came home from work yesterday to find three ladders in my back yard. They extended from my property across the fence and onto my neighbor’s roof. I did not put them there, but my dad reported that the workers next door had done it without asking. My kids were running wild near the ladders and I started screaming that they needed to go inside. I mean, take a look at that cover picture – it’s pretty insane.

I tried texting my neighbors, but I couldn’t immediately reach them. I barely know them anyway, as they bought the house a few months before Shawn got sick and still haven’t moved in. So, as the afternoon progressed, I started to freak out. I mean, what if one of the kids snuck out in the evening and started climbing on those ladders? What if a neighborhood kid came over and did the same thing? What if something happened? What if?

I am not a mom who is usually prone to freaking out. I tend to keep calm and assess the situation. I knew I was not thinking rationally. Instead, I texted all my neighborhood friends the picture, along with a simple, “WTF?”

They responded with outrage…and some hilarity. “Nope, no. No ma’am,” came one text. “I’m seriously picking up my kids now and coming over,” said another.

Friends showed up and could not believe what they were seeing. The kids ran through the backyard and one of them said he thought it would be fun to “climb the ladder and jump down onto the hammock.” Of course he said that. He’s NINE.

What were the contractors thinking? And why had I let it get this out of control?

Because here’s the thing – I’ve let things slide for way too long.

Our neighbors started doing work on their house almost a year ago. At first, it was pretty minor – tearing off an old porch and clearing out some of the brush. They bought the house in the spring of 2017 and never moved in, preferring to renovate it first. In any case, they didn’t start doing real renovations until the winter when Shawn was dying. I didn’t know what they were doing, and I didn’t care.

One day about 6 weeks after Shawn died, I looked out of my bedroom window and realized that there was a massive pile of trash in their backyard. It was probably 15 feet in diameter and at least 8 feet tall. The trash was mostly construction trash and it was horribly ugly.

I looked at it for three months. I have no idea why it just sat there for all that time, but there it was. I never called my neighbors, as I just couldn’t imagine what I would say on the phone. “Hi, this is your next-door neighbor Marjorie. I know we don’t really know each other, but you have had a massive pile of trash in your backyard for three months. I haven’t called earlier because I was grieving my husband who died of colon cancer at age 40.”

Because you know that’s what I would have said. Especially last spring when I had no filter.

Anyway, they eventually got rid of the trash and started to dig the foundation, and it was a huge disaster. There was wood stacked in the front yard for months and no barrier up in the back so my kids kept trying to “explore” the construction site. Every day there was something that happened to my house – wires near my fence or construction debris in my vegetable garden or nails in our yard that Tommy would stick in his mouth. Sometimes I’d text my neighbor, but usually I just ignored it because I have too many other things to deal with.

That’s how we got to this. I should have paid attention, I should have started calling the contractor the minute things got out of hand. Shawn would have done that. He would have been polite, but he would have let them know that you need to be a responsible contractor. He would have made sure that those damn ladders didn’t end up in our yard yesterday.

Eventually, my neighbor called back. She is a mom and so she was horrified by the photo I sent her. She promised it would be taken down the next day. But the whole incident just made me feel defeated. I like to think of myself as a woman who takes care of things. In this case, I didn’t. In the end, my neighbor’s contractor took advantage of my distraction, and did whatever the hell he wanted.

For those of you who are worried, I’ve got people who are helping me deal with this. It’s not about my neighbor’s terrible contractor, per say, but rather about how I just can’t be on top of everything that I used to manage. Or, in this case, I can’t be on top of everything that Shawn used to manage. Even if I am doing things like somehow saving our basement, I’m not really being proactive at dealing with things like terrible contractors. At times like these, I want Shawn back so badly so that he can take care of the problem.

I want Shawn back so that he can take care of me.

And that makes me feel pretty defeated. This whole incident was not just about the safety of my children, it was also about all of the feelings of grief that surfaced for me over the past 24 hours. It was another reminder of what is missing every single day: Shawn.

Maybe that’s why something snapped in me yesterday. I was furious, and everyone got to see it. As I put her to bed last night, Claire said, “you said shit two times today! And you said other bad words too! You were not happy AT ALL!”

“I’m sorry,” I told her, “but sometimes bad words are needed. This is one of those cases.”

I’m still raging this morning as I type this up and post it. I was screaming about it in the staff lounge this morning, and then I started crying. I’m basically a mess.

But I have decided one thing – I’m not standing for any more shit like this.

Nope, no. No ma’am.


  • Paula Donnelly

    Wait a second – is “shit” unusual to hear in your house? You’ve gone through hell and back and it’s unusual for your kids to hear a profanity? You’re a better mom than me! My 2 year old is in the repeating stage… but he always prefaces what he heard with my name to really get my attention. Most of my commute today was, “Mama? Mama. Fuck it.” ( I blame traffic).

  • Collette

    Nope, no. No ma’am.
    My new favorite line.
    I nearly failed a bike tire tube change….and failed miserably at a small plumbing project.
    We must accept the help of our tribe and take all of the power and strength we can from our failures. Don’t stand for that shit, is right!
    Will we give up? Nope, no. No ma’am. I’ll change another tube, fold more laundry, cook more meals, do more homework, and be grateful that for every last ounce of energy that we are given to thrive and raise these awesome kids of ours. “shit” and all.
    Be strong Momma.

    • Marjorie

      Love this so much. We just keep going, because that’s what we have to do – and that’s what we CAN do. Be strong my fellow mama!

  • Carmelita

    No wonder we miss our guys: they were kind, smart, responsible men! My husband was a much better “hugger” than me . He would have known how to give comfort and support to our eldest daughter dealing with multiple sclerosis. I do the best I can , but hey, I miss him . What can I say: we chose well!!- in our spouses. Otherwise none of this would matter.

    • Marjorie

      Exactly – it’s hard not to miss men who were supportive in so many aspects of our lives. I’ll be holding you – and your daughter – in my heart.