The fence

There is a family that lives on the other side of town in a budding community development. One of the things they agreed to, when they bought the property, was to maintain certain exterior appearances, including a restriction on fences.

The family has a middle-school aged boy with Down sydrome, and they would like to put up a special kind of fence. A disagreement is brewing, and feelings are beginning to get hurt.

I’ve heard one side of the story, and I can imagine the other. On the one hand, the family moved into the neighborhood aware of the restrictions, and they agreed to them. The child, whom we assume is the reason for the fence, was with them then. There are other, equal kinds of fencing that would seem to work as well as the not-approved kind. And whatever they build will become part of the neighborhood forever, or for as long as the materials last. The family may move away; the fence will remain.

On the other hand, here is a family with a child whom they might be feeling they can not manage. They want a special fence, a different one than what is allowed (for whatever reason, I don’t have all the particulars) because they believe they need it. They are asking their neighbors to support them, and that support is not forthcoming.

I am thinking about the fence today because it raises the question of fairness. What is fair, in this situation? What is the right thing to do? Most days, I push hard for the world to look at Avery as a person first, a human being in his own right, without exception. Sometimes I come up against situations in which I must acknowledge, okay, he isn’t exactly the same as other kids–sometimes we need help. And if this family is asking for help, in their pursuit of the outlaw fence, shouldn’t we support them?

There is a phrase that folks live by in rural communities–good fence makes good neighbors. The message here is something like, “let’s be clear about our boundaries right at the start,” and also “you mind your business, I’ll mind mine.” Where properties come together, there is another rule of thumb: meet at the middle, facing each other, and each neighbor maintains the fence to their right.

Part of me is wishing for a Hallmark solution, where the family articulates exactly what they need and the community finds alternate ways of helping them. Do they need to keep the boy away from the road? Maybe they could use a gate. Do they need a safe place for him to play? Maybe there is a provision for a play area in the community design. Or, do they simply want to fence others out?

I don’t know the answer. What I do know is this: making a good fence is more important, and more complicated, than I realized.


9 thoughts on “The fence

  1. Thank you, everyone, for all your comments. I have made more phonecalls and though I don’t have much more information than earlier, I will let you know how it turns out.

  2. Well if it is for saftey reasons, I dont see what the big deal is..I know for Nathaniel we need to have a fenced area he cant get out of or he is gone! I have a friend who has a daughter birn with Ds and she is a big time wanderer, they needed to put special locks on the fences cuz she has figured out the regular ones! Sometimes I think we spend too much energy on fighting over things that our kids need. I hope they dont give up and get what they need.


  3. That is a tough one since the family moved in aware of the restrictions; but how long ago did they move in? One can’t know the future and what they might need for security and safety reasons – I’m sure they thought there would be no problems or issues with regards to a certain type of fence. But now things have changed and for whatever reason they feel they need a certain type of fence (of course I have no idea what type of fence and why this should cause issues) but I do hope, if this is for safety measures for their child, that some type of resolution can be reached.

  4. mmm no matter what the situation is i hate the idea of covinants when moving into a new home. that is one thing we made sure of when we bought our new home..when you pay thousands of dollars to live there and then to have someone tell you what you can and cannot do to your land is crazy!! I do hope they get to put up their fence no matter what the reason but if its for the well fare of their child then thats most important!

  5. Amy, I’ve tried a little bit. I hesitate to do more than I’ve already done. But I hope my friend, on the planning board, is reading this, and that she’ll know that I will help in any way, if asked. Maybe I’ll make some more phonecalls…

  6. That’s a tough one.

    I find myself wanting the best of both worlds for Thomas–all the perks of being similar to other kids, as well as the perks of being different. As much as I hate to admit it, I don’t think that’s a realistic expectation.

    I don’t think parents should expect others to honor a request (especially one that breaks a formal agreement) that brings difficulty or even inconvenience to those others, even for a good cause, if there’s another option which would meet the needs of all. Obviously I have no idea if such an option exists in this case.

    You’re asking important questions, Jennifer.

  7. An essay, and a life. It seems that a lot of our issues in the world today are over fences…when to put them up, when to tear them down, and how to know when to do each.

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