A few weeks ago, for my 39th birthday, we arranged for childcare and a house sitter and decided to dash across the border to Bellingham for a quick night away. We had dinner at the Boundary Bay Brewing Company and stayed at the incredible Tree Frog Night Inn, both of which I highly recommend. We came home Sunday morning and took our phones off airplane mode when we hit the border and my inbox, private Twitter messages, and voice mail started blinging and blanging away. I thought it was funny, until I saw that almost every single message was urgently trying to get in touch with us.
We had been broken into.
The thief/thieves really wanted into our house. They smashed a basement window, possibly to check if we had an alarm or were home, and then went around to the back door and used a pitchfork to try and pry the door from the frame. When that didn’t work, they went back to the garden shed and grabbed a mattock and chopped their way in through the front door, kicking the door frame to pieces.
They stole my laptop and some rolled coins we had, some loose change in a tupperware container, and proving themselves even more pathetic, they stole Kale’s piggybank from his dresser. They ransacked our bedroom, stealing our jewelry boxes and every last piece of jewelry I owned except for a few pieces that fell to the ground in their hurry: three non-matching and single earrings, a leather bracelet, two inexpensive necklaces, a key shaped brooch my mom gave me when I graduated from high school, an amber necklace charm Ross gave me, two banged up silver bangles, a necklace charm, six cheap earring studs, and four rings of minimal value. While putting things back in order two days later, I also discovered a favourite brooch that was my Nana’s which they had swept into my sock drawer in their haste to steal all our things.
Everything else besides the wedding rings on my finger, my favourite watch I always wear, and a ship’s wheel necklace I happened to be wearing – the only remaining thing that was my dad’s – was gone. My favourite pearls, my christening bracelet, all of my grandmother’s antique jewelry, all my favourite necklaces and brooches – they were all gone.
It’s been a tough few weeks as we have put our lives back together, but here are the silver linings:
- Neighbours. When they kicked in the door, it no longer closed, and Mooki escaped. We live fairly close to a busy road, but thankfully, Mooki bedded down in our neighbour’s yard until they woke up the next morning and found her. They were, in fact, the ones who called the police because they knew Mooki was never off leash, and when they looked toward our house and saw the door wide open, they knew something was up. While we have always been friendly with our neighbours, more have come to speak with us, and we’ve traded numbers with many of them so that we have contact info for emergencies.
- Insurance. Our insurance provider has been wonderful. We use RBC Insurance, and while I have griped about shelling out $145 a month for the past three years, I am nothing short of thankful I have done so. Our adjuster has also been very sympathetic, approachable, and has made the experience as good as it could be. I have had a million questions, and with kindness and patience, she has answered my questions one by one.
- Friends. Not only did they have to be the bearer of bad news, they also waited at our house while the police did their job. They called in the emergency locksmith, kept Mooki safe, let me cry on shoulders that day and on days since then grieving the loss of the jewelry pieces that hold special meaning. They offered spare rooms for us to stay in so that we could preserve any evidence for when the forensics team could come the next day. They have been superstars.
What I’ve struggled with is how much we fill Kale in on what’s going on. How do you talk to kids about crime? What do you say? Some terrible people came and ransacked our house and touched all your things and took what they wanted and didn’t give a hoot about whether our dog died or what the sentimental value of these pieces might be? How do you phrase this in a way that isn’t scary and isn’t going to provoke nightmares?
We knew we’d need to explain to Kale why we weren’t stay at home that first night, and so we told him the simplest truth. That someone broke our doors and that we needed to get them looked at before we could go home. This was not untrue – the forensics team took prints off both doors and the restoration company came to measure for new doors the very next day. I didn’t want Kale to unnecessarily worry about people coming into our house, and so we kept our talk to the results rather than the cause: the doors had black fingerprints on them because they had to run a test on them before being replaced. The man was measuring the doors so we could get new ones.
While Kale was at preschool that first day back, I tidied up our ransacked bedroom and closed all the opened kitchen drawers. I erased all signs as best I could of the fact that strangers – criminals – had come in our house unwanted and uninvited. We haven’t mentioned his piggy bank. But kids are amazing.
Kale has heard me tell people we were broken into. He has been present while I made phone call after phone call to arrange things, send in receipts, replace immediate things (my birth certificate, for one, was in my jewelry box and needed to be replaced). He has been at the table while I updated Ross on what has happened. And although the conversation has been on restoring our world to what it was (if that’s possible) and never on the types of people who break into houses or the reasons why people resort to crime, Kale has processed all on his own.
And last Tuesday as we came home from karate, he pointed out the marks in the basement door and said “that’s where the people came in and took your pretty things.”
He wasn’t scared, he wasn’t fearful. He was matter of fact and he was thoughtful. He might not get all the ins and outs of crime, but he understands, in his own way and on his own time, what has happened to our house, and how that’s impacting us.
Here’s the part where I give you some practical advice:
- For the love of all things, get some insurance. Take the time to do this. Shop around. Ask questions about what is covered, what your limits are for certain categories, and what their payout policies are. If you need to, schedule in items of particular value. And shut up about paying the premiums because you might be convinced you won’t ever make a claim and then BAM it happens.
- Take an inventory of your stuff, with photos. The hardest part so far in terms of tasks has been in determining what is gone. Examine the relationship you have with your things, and maybe let go of things you don’t like before someone takes it from you. I’m surprised at the attachment I feel to certain pieces of jewelry I never wore because I didn’t care for them but loved the person who gave it to me, but also surprised at how this has made me examine my relationship with stuff.
- Inspect your doors to make sure that you have high quality striker plates, with long screws securing it into the frame. The hardware used to install the striker plate on our door was one inch long. The locksmith told me four inches minimum, six inches better. Make sure your doors are well built, secure, and are equipped with motion lights.
- Get to know your neighbours. Tell them when you’re going away. Offer to collect their mail, water their plants, turn on or off lights, and give them your cell phone number. Ask them to do the same. Build trusting relationships with the people you share space with. It will come in handy.
- If you have kids, think about how you’ll tell your kids about crime before you’re faced with the need to. We were surprised to discover we were on different sides of the fence about how to approach this, and the urgency of the situation meant we didn’t really have time to come to a compromise. The squeaky wheel (in this case, me) got the grease about how we told Kale, and while it’s all worked out okay, it might not have.
And finally – do not let something like this control your life. It has been so tempting to give in and buy an alarm or install bars on all our windows. We *have* bought curtain rods for the basement windows, and we *will* install a better motion light for our back door, and I *am* pricing out a new garden shed with a door we can lock. It is easy to blame criminals for this – bad, crappy, awful people do stuff like this for a variety of reasons like the thrill of being caught or being powerful and profiting off others. But poverty stricken, hungry people struggling with addiction or mental health issues turn to crime, too, and I have no idea which type of person was in my house.
Be resolute and do not live in fear. This world is a good place.