Care and Feeding

I’m Being Haunted by the Child Playing in My Hallway

It feels like there’s a child in my home when there isn’t one.

Toddler running with its mouth open.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by  inarik/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I live in an apartment building and one of my neighbors a few doors down has a small child. Our neighbor’s nanny likes to let the child play in the hallway. I think, perhaps, he is learning to walk. Sometimes she’ll let him toddle up and down the hallway or just sit outside and play. It would be fine if it were a few minutes at a time, but it typically ranges from 20 minutes to an hour, multiple times per week, even on nice days when it’s possible to go outside.

Naturally, there is a fair amount of young child-related noises during these sessions in the hall. I have been trying to get pregnant for years and had a miscarriage a few months ago. I’m trying to be understanding of the difficulties of keeping young kids busy right now during the pandemic. However, these hallway hangs are not only disruptive because I work from home, but upsetting. The other day I opened my door to go out and run some errands, and the baby was just sitting on my doormat. I know it’s not about me, but it felt so cruel and totally threw me off for the rest of the day. It brings up a lot of complicated feelings for me, feelings I don’t want to have to parse while I’m on a call for work and apologizing to my co-workers for the screaming baby in the background that isn’t my own.

Is there anything I can say to my neighbors without seeming like an ass? Or perhaps leave in a note? I don’t want to seem insensitive, but I also don’t want to have to share how painful it is to feel like there is a child in my home when there isn’t one.

—Hall Tales

Dear H.T.,

This absolutely sucks and I’m sorry that you’re going through such a difficult situation. I think your best hope of ending this predicament is by telling your neighbor the truth. I can imagine that speaking about your journey towards parenthood may be difficult—especially to a stranger—but it’s more likely you’d be able to compel understanding that way than by just complaining that a naturally exuberant baby is keeping you from doing your work.

If you don’t feel comfortable broaching the subject in person, write a note. Either way, explain that the sounds of the little one trigger some feelings that are very difficult for you to manage during the work day, and while it isn’t that you don’t expect to hear a child who lives on your floor at all, this constant disruption is taking a toll on you. Perhaps there can be 1-2 specific times per week where the little one gets to hang in the hallway and you can plan to be elsewhere, like during a gym class or grocery run. Emphasize that you are empathetic to the nanny (and the kid), who may be desperate to diversify the kid’s play area for a while, and hope that she and the parent(s) can be as empathetic to you going forward as well.

Also, as an aside, it wouldn’t be a bad idea (if you haven’t already) to speak to a therapist about what you’re going through. The loss of a pregnancy can be traumatic and there are triggers to be found all around; you’ve got a very big one living next door and it may be helpful to get some sort of support in managing the big feelings that you’re shouldering.


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