baby proof: soundproofing.

November 2, 2015

block tower reading my tea leavesLast weekend we spent Sunday stapling acoustic foam panels onto our floor. Viewed in a certain light, the panels themselves are quite lovely: All of those undulating curves, the soft gray, the touch of texture. 

Of course, I’m kidding. But you better believe that short from living in a padded cell, I’m not sure there’s a foolproof solution to our current predicament.

Two weeks ago we got the dreaded note from the downstairs neighbor. It was attached to our door with duct tape, and though pleasant enough, it still made our stomachs drop. Noise levels: unmanagable. Request: no running before 8 am.

To which the tempting reply is: IF ONLY.

Have you ever tried to keep a toddler from running? The problem with a baby, of course, is that there’s not an off switch. And the on switch is set to run. There’s no meandering around the apartment. No sustained tip-toeing. And definitely no reasoning. Quiet, quiet, we say, our fingers pressed to our mouths. And Faye responds with a joyful pounding of her tiny feet and thwack of a metal spatula onto the floor. Bless her heart, little imp. 

Put simply: we’re doing our best. Which is, despite the occassional cries to the contrary, what every parent everywhere is doing. No parent finds joy in thinking that their offspring might be disturbing the peace. No parent stands idly by while their child goes ape on a plane. The countering tactics might be subtle, and they’re likely ineffective, but I don’t think there’s any parent on the planet who’s not making their best effort.

Last week, in a scene that unfolded far from the confines our tiny apartment, Faye revolted midway into a 40-minute subway ride. No number of songs or funny faces or handing over of chapsticks or wallets could convince her that a subway was a place she wanted to be. When the woman sitting next to me—who had been suffering silently through banshee screams—got up to leave, she turned to me and James and said: “You’re great parents. It’s not you. Babies just do that sometimes.”

And then I cried, because, oh, humanity. 

Truth be told, I wasn’t feeling particularly frazzled by Faye’s discontent. I got it. I wanted to be home and cozy, too. But the unsolicited kindness of a stranger was so encouraging and comforting and generous. So, in case any one out there needs encouragement: I hope the kindness of that stranger on the subway can be your comfort, too.

As for life in our tiny apartment with a noisemaker? We’re trying to thwart her efforts at creating maximum cacaphony. We’ve hidden the bell rattle. We’ve doubled our supply of grippy socks. We only build block towers a top a pile of blankets and quilts. The little rolling caterpillar has become an outdoor toy. I’m trolling eBay for vintage rugs. And mulling over these Brooklyn beauties.

And meanwhile, our neighbor continues to do his part to cope by blasting the Grateful Dead and filling his apartment (and ours) with pot smoke.

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.

Speaking of planes. Speaking of babies.

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  • Reply Nanna November 2, 2015 at 11:00 am

    Oh boy. I have a nearly identical situation with my downstairs neighbor and I feel for you. You feel like a Noise Guard towards your child. You are so conflicted because yes, who wants to be a “bad” neighbor or who wants intentionally to cause negative feelings towards their fellow human being. But then there is the flip side: it is your home, it is your life that you should be able to live, the home for me is kind of a sanctuary and now it is soiled a bit with this negative crap. And also – in your case – it IS a baby. Like you said there is no off switch, no volume control – what does your neighbor want you to do? It is also interesting that both in your situation and mine, the complaining neighbor causes as much disturbance towards you. In my case, I get woken up in the middle of the night when he comes home and bangs things. I put a pillow on my head. In my opinion when the complaining is centered in the regular life noises: babies, walking etc, the case should be dropped by the complainer. Yes, you will try your best from now on to LIMIT your excessive noise, but he/she will also have to do his/her part: put a pillow on the head, get ear plugs, get a white noise machine, move etc. So we are being super considerate where we can (especially early morning), but otherwise I am letting this go and not allowing this to taint my lovely home.

  • Reply Jessica November 2, 2015 at 11:58 am

    I have a toddler, so I get it, but I was under the impression that most older apartment buildings in NY had rule in their leases regarding a certain percentage of the floors being covered by rugs?

    • Reply Erin Boyle November 2, 2015 at 3:44 pm

      A lot of leases have boilerplate language about rugs, but there’s not a rug check if you know what I mean!

  • Reply lindsay November 2, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    oy vey! i, too, live in a brooklyn walkup with wood floors. i have an upstairs neighbor who likes to walk around in heels at all hours (shoes in your apartment are baffling enough, but HEELS?!) and a downstairs neighbor with an excitable dog. but i’d never dream of complaining to them. it comes with the territory. if you want quiet, move to new jersey. =)

  • Reply Jen November 2, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    You completely have my sympathy! We have an 18 month old who often makes a ton of noise that’s difficult to control…and have had complaints, ironically, from our neighbors above us who like to vacuum at 11pm at night. Go figure.

  • Reply Lisa November 2, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    oh man, Erin…that love/hate relationship with city living…and vocal neighbors. Remember what your subway seatmate said and hope another neighbor gets a dog, so the complainer can re-focus his energy. 🙂

  • Reply Abby November 2, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    I love this – as someone who might, someday, maybe end up being a NYC parent to a rambunctious kiddo, I am all eyes and ears for a story about how you deal with things like downstairs Deadhead neighbors and the dreaded subway cry. Best of luck! (It sounds like you’re getting from the universe what you’re putting into it – all that positivity has to do something, right?)

  • Reply Kristi November 2, 2015 at 12:43 pm

    Out of curiosity, how did you reply to the neighbor? Or did you reply at all? Although I don’t have children, I’ve had neighbors tell me before that my walking was too loud. Am I not supposed to walk around my own apartment?! As far as I can tell, I’m fairly light footed! I never quite know how to respond to someone who requests I not operate as a basic human.

    • Reply Erin Boyle November 2, 2015 at 3:42 pm

      He left his cell number which was really generous and we responded with a heartfelt we’ll do our best!

  • Reply Anna November 2, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    Oh no! That is so frustrating. We live on the first floor and our upstairs neighbor calls our 2.5 year old paddlefoot. He runs with heavy steps, everywhere, but fortunately they can live with it. Luckily some people are kind and understanding. Hope you find more of those!

  • Reply Yelle November 2, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    That is so so important to remember: the kindness of strangers. Since speaking with my friends that are new parents (I do not have children yet) they have enlightened me that sometimes kids and babies and just kids and babies, no matter how amazing of a parent you are. And sometimes, you’ll get that nod of approval from strangers when your child is screaming, as if they mean to say, “Yeah – I’ve been in your shoes too.” And sometimes, strangers without children or strangers in a bad mood just cannot be bothered with it, and feel no compassion. Since this revelation when talking to my friends, I am always trying to make parents lives easier, if it means holding the door for them when they bring their stroller through, clearing a path, etc. because I know their lives are not always easy, so if I can be one person to make it a hint easier, it makes the hard times a little more bearable. xo

  • Reply Jennifer November 2, 2015 at 1:40 pm

    A couple years ago, our neighbor complained about our son playing with his basketball hoop and a lightweight foam ball in his room. But get this: SHE LIVED TWO FLOORS UP. While you couldn’t even hear the noise right outside our front door, she claimed the noise was unbearable while she wanted to nap at 4pm. Luckily, our building manager was on our side. At a certain point, it’s just apartment life, or city life, or just, you know, being human. Deal with it!

  • Reply Erin November 2, 2015 at 1:50 pm

    I understand that you have made an aesthetic choice about rugs and carpets, but is there a way you could compromise and put more down? As a former downstairs neighbor, rugs and carpets help a lot.

    • Reply Erin Boyle November 2, 2015 at 3:46 pm

      Yes: I mentioned in the post that I’m on the lookout!

  • Reply Carmella November 2, 2015 at 2:05 pm

    These words, and the comfort they extend to all of us who are parenting the stages and ages of growing human lives with as much grace in our brokenness as we can. Thank you.

  • Reply Emily November 2, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    Re blocks, you can get a small Masonite board to put on the blankets or a bed to make a solid surface for building.

  • Reply Emily November 2, 2015 at 2:40 pm

    And I get you. Right now we’re in a condo with thick walls and it is such a relief that out loud littles aren’t bothering anyone (in our last apt I was always so worried about it!)

  • Reply Elizabeth November 2, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    We just had a very similar note exchange with our downstairs neighbors. In a happy twist, it ended with the couple bringing us a “thanks for your consideration” bottle of wine!

    If you’re still looking for a rug, we recently purchased a beautiful one from Hook and Loom. The company was just what we were looking for- chemical and dye free, awareness of labor practices, etc. It may be worth checking out!

    Good luck and thanks for your lovely balance of the practical and beautiful moments.

  • Reply CN November 2, 2015 at 4:34 pm

    Oh dear…it’s always the people who have no respect for others that expect it to come their way!? How can the sounds of a toddler no matter the time or stress of day bother anyone with a heart? I am glad you had a pleasant encounter and wish you many more! Your family makes the world a better place …don’t forget that and thank you.

  • Reply gina senzatimore November 2, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    It’s a given that neighbors will irk each other, whether it’s an apartment, house or those that live on the plot of land two miles down the road. I think you your response was perfect, because that’s all you can really do, your best. Hang in there! Because it’s always something. Kids, dogs, windchimes (the worst!) or hippies next door;)

  • Reply Joy November 2, 2015 at 5:11 pm

    Ugh! At our last apartment we had our downstairs neighbors complain straight to management (not even to us!) that we walked too loudly–even though we never wore shoes in the apartment! I agree with some of the other commenters–if you live in an apartment, expect to hear the noises of other human beings living their lives, within reason. You guys are doing your part by building blocks on quilts and not playing with the rolling caterpillar indoors–but toddler feet running? That’s just part of apartment life!

  • Reply Michelle Overby November 2, 2015 at 6:30 pm

    Dear me! Erin, I just want to give you a big hug and then go and give your neighbor some earplugs! 😀 Hang in there!

  • Reply Jenn November 2, 2015 at 6:53 pm

    Foam interlocking mats (you can find them on Amazon) may help noise while still making for a flat(er) surface for playing on. They also have the advantage of being easily moveable/stacked out of the way when not needed.

  • Reply Loribeth November 2, 2015 at 10:18 pm

    I’m a downstairs neighbor to a cute little pregnant lady who has started walking MUCH louder since she’s carrying a small human. It wakes me up sometimes but I know there’s nothing she can do about it and I’ll continue to be understanding when the little one makes his grand appearance, because neither of them can help being an upstairs neighbor and making life noises! People who can’t extend a little grace irk me.

  • Reply Susan Crane November 2, 2015 at 10:45 pm

    One of my favorite things in my apartment bldg is the sound of children at play. Adult sounds not so much. As for pot smoke, I live in Boulder, CO. Enough said. Anyway, Mack’s silicone earplugs have been life changing for me. Maybe you could get a pkg for you and your neighbor??

    • Reply Lisa November 4, 2015 at 6:17 pm

      Susan, I chuckled at your comment about living in Boulder. Also, Mack’s earplugs and an air purifier (similar to white noise machine) have been my saving grace, the former I take with me on all my travels, as well.

  • Reply jiturka November 3, 2015 at 2:49 am

    Yeah, we are in the downstair neighbour situation. Often we really wonder, what the people upstairs do. We guess bowling, or sometimes it sounds like riding coconut horses. Also basketball came to mind. I know it is a kid, a toddler and a dog, so there’s not much helping it, but my dearest has shorter temper (also I lived in a bit noisier home before, neighbour had circular saw and lots of wood). I mentioned they have a dog – whenever they leave, the dog barks and howls the whole time he’s home alone. Can be hours and its heartbreaking sound. We tried to let them know in person, so there could be room for some communication, but there’s no effort on their side – „they’re kids, we can’t tell them not to run” – but carpets or dog training/dogsitting would sure help.
    You’re facing it well. When Faye’s older, you can make “quiet hour” together – something that doesn’t involve jumping, balls or throwing things on floor 🙂

  • Reply Lexie November 3, 2015 at 3:15 am

    I appalude the kind stranger and you certainly are going above and beyond. But I believe Fay is now at the age where a small apartment is just not feasible. You can drive yourself crazy trying to concede but growing toddlers need freedom to run and play. Moving to a larger more child friendly space will give your darilng girl the freedom she needs. And give you peace of mind.

    • Reply Theresa November 3, 2015 at 11:03 am

      People all over the world live in small living spaces with children, so while it may not be ideal for some, it’s certainly doable. Getting a larger space isn’t an option for everyone.

  • Reply Lauren November 3, 2015 at 3:25 am

    Lovely post! It’s true that we, as parents, are always trying our best. We have been traveling quite a bit with our four month old son, and while he’s been easy going and quiet on plane rides thus far, I know we are in for a noisy adventure in the future! The kindness of strangers is always welcomed, appreciated, and gives one the boost of positive reinforcement that we all need sometimes! From what I’ve seen through your pictures and read in you’re posts, the lady on the subway was right. You are great parents! Keep up the good work!

  • Reply debbie November 3, 2015 at 7:04 am

    My daughter just bought a tiny two bedroomed terraced cottage – the walls are paper thin and the people on her left have either a TV or a radio on in every room all day/evening. The people on the right have a teething baby who during the day is rolling around in one of those baby walkers on wheels, and at night, cries. She (my daughter) was in the back bedroom (away from road noise) but the baby crying got so bad that she moved into the front bedroom – she now has the noise of both the road and the parents of the child having sex!!! Her opinion? “It’s called life Mum, babies cry, people watch TV, make love….I shall just have to soundproof”. Great attitude, particularly as she lives on her own and is out at work 13 hours a day!!!

  • Reply Leah November 3, 2015 at 11:41 am

    This is a tough one. I lived in NYC for 10 years, and was both the above neighbor and below neighbor at times. This situation was one that lead to choosing a larger apartment, so that the layout wasn’t totally the same as my neighbors… I feel for you.

  • Reply Caitlin November 3, 2015 at 12:26 pm

    I had this happen with our downstairs neighbor in Brooklyn, but it ended up being our cats who were doing laps in the living room while we were sleeping!. These aren’t vintage, but they worked for us…simple, affordable, and really thick:

  • Reply Cynthia November 3, 2015 at 1:39 pm

    When I had my first baby we were still living in the apartment we had been in while my husband was finishing up his schooling at Cal. It was a six-plex and the neighbor next door was the manager. When my son cried he retaliated by blaring music with the speaker aimed at my front door. It took only one phone call to the Berkeley police and I was contacted by a lawyer/advocate advising me that this would be considered harassment and was illegal and discriminatory against families. I politely told my neighbor/manager this information and gave him “another opportunity” to cease and desist. We remained in the unit with no further complaints until our second son was 9 months old. By then we could afford to rent a house and it was heaven to move out and live in total freedom. I wonder if NYC has similar laws that protect families.

  • Reply thefolia November 4, 2015 at 1:12 am

    I have two much older ones and we still have to constantly request to not toss the balls in the house or to not run a muck. How nice to get encouragement when in such a dire situation. Happy communicating and developing!

  • Reply Anna November 4, 2015 at 9:36 am

    We’re dealing with this exact same thing this week, thankfully also with a neighbour who’s trying to be gracious, but in a jab at my patience also the neighbour who plays loud boomy bass all weekend. City living! We’ve introduced jumping on the bed as an early-morning energy activity, and pulled out the Padraig slippers – that thick sheepskin does a little good. Best of luck, and may your neighbourly interactions be peaceful and your patience bolstered!

    (And now that you have his phone number, maybe you can call sweetly about music levels, using nap time as leverage?)

  • Reply Justine November 4, 2015 at 8:26 pm

    We had a huge battle with our downstairs neighbors once. It’s really not fair because noise travels down, not up. Our neighbors ran on a treadmill (!!!!) and we could barely hear it. But even if our kids were playing quietly the neighbors would bang on the door. (Ever notice how kids don’t ease themselves down onto the floor? They literally crash into it with their knees!) They got to blast heavy metal, we couldn’t even play Puff the Magic Dragon.

    My foam pads were pink and brown. Eeeek. But at least they weren’t the rainbow alphabet. Do take a picture of yours.

  • Reply Alexandra November 5, 2015 at 4:01 pm

    May I ask where you get grippy socks? “downstairs neighbor” has a woodshop (he has his garage underneath our apartment)..he sometimes mentions hearing my 6 month old, I can only imagine when he starts running around..

    • Reply Erin Boyle November 5, 2015 at 4:19 pm

      Our favorites are from PACT!

  • Reply Katie November 7, 2015 at 12:11 pm

    I’m so grateful for this post and comments — it’s my first year as an apartment dweller and I’ve been feeling frustrated with the heavy footfalls of my upstairs neighbors, but remembering that this is day to day life for people (i can’t change the way they walk) and will try to live a little more gracefully about it. And i’m going to order ear plugs for the rare occasion they come stomping home at 3 am.

  • Reply Elisa November 9, 2015 at 6:58 am

    I live below a family with a toddler who starts running back and forth in the apartment at around 5am. he also screams a lot. Is it annoying? Yes. Did I file a complaint or go bug the family? No. Because though my daughters are well past the toddler age, I know that like you said, there is no way to put much control on a toddler, — at least not when it comes to running. A colleague of my husband’s once said that it seemed to him that little kids don’t go anywhere walking: they are either running, or skipping, or jumping… no walking, for the most part. I still remember it, because it’s so true. So I can relate. But I also know that sometimes you need to humor unreasonable neighbors so that they don’t create trouble. Maybe add a few area rugs and make sure she is wearing some non-slip socks in the house? Bare feet make a lot more noise than socked feet 🙂
    Good luck!

  • Reply Alexis November 12, 2015 at 10:23 am

    Same problem! Love our new hardwood floors, but have not gotten a chance to get any rugs since moving in at the end of July. Are you worried about buying vintage rugs? My #1 fear about living in NYC is bedbugs. So I am wary of purchasing used/vintage items.
    I guess luckily for us, our downstairs neighbors are also very noisy and we hear them quite a bit. They have a little dog and a teenager with disabilities. So between our two families there’s always something hopping!

    • Reply Erin Boyle November 12, 2015 at 12:07 pm

      Ah, yes. I’d definitely never bring home a rug I found on the street, but I’m honestly mostly concerned about mustyness and odors in vintage rugs! TBD!

  • Reply Freya November 18, 2015 at 6:01 am

    This post made me laugh. I’m in your neighbor’s position at the moment with a running two year old up above. It absolutely drives me crazy sometimes and I have wanted to say something occasionally – but then I think, what can they do about it? And then I try to put myself in the two year old’s shoes and imagine how much fun he must be having. And now when I hear those little thuds at 5am I try to think of them as thuds of joy 😉 And I agree that what is needed most is a bit of humanity. Like, if we could all just laugh about how no one is getting any sleep because the kid is running and the dog is barking and it’s just chaos, then we would all feel like we were in it together and no one is the victim here. But this is London and no one talks about that sort of thing – or even at all really. But I do talk to the pot smokers downstairs, because: gross.

  • Reply Rachel November 30, 2015 at 12:58 am

    Duct tape?! How inconsiderately passive aggressive. (That stuff can rip paint off a fence!) I’m really sorry that you’re in this situation. At the moment I’m trying to find a way to buy the two-flat I live in so I never have to be the downstairs neighbor again. As far as your lovely toddler goes, this is a crazy idea but maybe there’s some kids story book that talks about sleeping bears or something, and you could try to make it a thing that you have to be quiet in the morning because of the hibernating bears? I know, this is nuts, and folks here are probably going to call me crazy, but when I was a kid I loved things like that.

  • Reply laura March 11, 2016 at 6:55 pm

    Ooooi! I don’t live in New York, but I have upstairs neighbours in an altbau, with children, who run around and thump thump thump on the floors of their apartments. I totally tolerate this, because I also have two children. But thump thump thump on the upstairs floors (our ceilings are three meters high) does not bother me in the slightest. It is not noise pollution. It is children running. I think I would invite your upstair neighbour up for brunch some sunday. I would let him meet your child. Then I would see, if, after being disarmed by her charm, he would continue to have an issue with her pitter patter on the floors!

  • Reply laura March 11, 2016 at 7:01 pm

    oh, and the other solution to being woken up too early, well, go to bed earlier. I would say that to the duct taping neighbour. Duct taping is so aggressive Could he not have invited you down for tea to talk about it? Foot thuds wouldn’t turn up on a decible reader. Which is why he duct taped your door. Rather than complain to a management company (if you have one).

  • Reply Jo November 13, 2016 at 8:00 pm

    Oh good golly, my darling little boy has just flicked a switch into full-blown toddlerhood in the last fortnight. I have been left reeling. He was already a ball of energy, and now with the added attitude and independence … I’m struggling to cope. We live in a little stand-alone house, and yet our neighbours can hear the wee darling at all hours – luckly they are always kindly, offering support and encouragement and understanding. Small acts of kindness, such as the lady on your subway, are positive reminders that people “get it” while I’m feeling ashamed, and generally like I’m failing as a parent. Brought a tear to my eye. Thankyou.

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