Q&A: etiquette--playgroup and personal property

Kathy, whose kids are all older and out of the house, writes:

"The concept of playgroups did not exist when my daughter was young. She either went to somebody's house to play (referred to these days as a "play date" I believe) or we just kicked her out to play with the other kids in the neighborhood (we usually let her back in at night LOL.)

Fast forward 20+ years.  Let me set the scene: I live in a townhouse. They are lined up in rows – with a sidewalk leading from the main walkway up to the front door of each unit. There is a patch of grass between each sidewalk – great place for kids to play. Each townhome has its own sidewalk and porch.

I came home from work yesterday and noticed that my next door neighbor had a couple of extra kids outside with her. Looked like a fun time for her two-year old.  (Actually I think he's under the age of 2 and she has a newborn, and a 7-year old, so it was nice to see him getting his special attention.) I went inside, upstairs and changed, etc. Came downstairs and opened the front door – it was a nice evening and I wanted to let in some of the cool air.

The small gathering of children had now grown to a full-fledged play group; kids around age 2 – cute kids one and all, having a great time with water toys, balls, chalk, etc.

I love children, and enjoy seeing them have fun, but when I opened the door, there were several of the Moms ON MY FRONT PORCH – this is not a shared porch – it only goes into my home. All along the walkway leading up to my house were more moms – ready to leap at a moment's notice to rescue their little one if necessary (actually, most of them looked like vultures.) I was uncomfortable with having strangers on my porch; my door was open; it felt like an invasion of my privacy.  I didn't quite know how to handle the situation, but I was leaving soon anyway, so – I decided not to let it bother me.

So -- now I am ready to leave.  As I walked out, a couple moms had to move just so I could open my screen door. As I started to walk down the sidewalk, I would have expected the moms to move so I could leave – but they just stood there. I politely said "excuse me" as I attempted to navigate my way to the main walk. One of the moms gave me the DIRTIEST LOOK. How DARE I expect her to move off of her spot – I guess she figured I should walk around her – she wasn't about to give up the space she had staked for herself!

These are new neighbors -- they've only lived next to me for a few months, and I don't know them at all except to smile and say hi.  I really didn't know how to handle the situation.  I guess the best thing will be when I see the mom that lives there just to mention that I was uncomfortable with people on my porch.  I don't know, I am rather shy and don't like to make waves - so I'll probably keep my mouth shut and deal with it. 

This is not really a question -- I don't quite know why I'm writing you.  I guess maybe I hope you could just give a word to your readers to be polite when attending a playgroup where there are shared spaces!

I've reread and revised this email several times -- I don't want you to get the idea that I am against play groups in the neighborhood. Quite the contrary, I encourage all social interaction with small children.  The more varied the better."

Whoa. I have absolutely no idea what to say about this, because I can't even imagine this situation. To me this isn't even in the category of etiquette. It seems beyond rude to deliberately antagonistic on the part of the playgroup moms.

I mean, I can understand overflowing into a neighbor's front yard, but onto her porch? Only if I knew for sure that the person wasn't home (and even then I'd feel guilty about it). And then being rude about letting the property owner walk on her own property? I'm stunned. It seems stupid and deliberately incendiary.

Is there any chance this is a regional thing? I live in New York City, where the concepts of outdoor space and personal property are very different from the rest of the country. (If it's outside, it's almost always public property.) Kathy lives in Southern California. Could the neighbors be from some other region where this is accepted practice?

What do you all think?

(And I do think that Kathy should let the neighbor know that she felt uncomfortable about the playgroup moms being on her actual porch. If the neighbor isn't responsive, she might have to go to a homeowners' association if they have one, but the first move should be to talk to the neighbor directly. An uncomfortable conversation, for sure. And how do you say to someone, "So, your friends are all rude jackasses, huh?" without offending? Yeesh.)