Neighbor dilemma

We’ve historically gotten along quite well with our next door neighbor - a single mom who has a son the same age as ours. The kids are practically joined at the hip and freely and seamlessly rotate play from one house to the other. I invited them over for a back yard cookout a couple days ago. One thing about our neighbor - she is quite heavy. I offered her a plastic lawn chair to sit on and she kind of hesitated a moment and said ‘I don’t want to break your chair.’ As it happens I saw her sit in that very chair last summer during another gathering and it worked just fine then, so I told her not to worry about it, and I was sure it wouldn’t break. So she sat down. Sure enough, a leg snapped right off and she went down. Thankfully nothing more than her pride was hurt, but it was apparent she was quite mortified by the incident. I apologized to her and promptly fetched a sturdy indoor wooden chair from the kitchen (like I should have to begin with) and the dinner passed awkwardly but without further incident.
Yesterday - her son knocks on the front door and hands me two $20 bills and says it’s to replace the chair his mom broke. The chair in question was already several years old and I don’t think it cost more than 10 bucks to begin with so I handed him the cash back and said not to worry about it, it was an old chair and if anyone was sorry it was me for not checking to see if the chair was in bad shape first and told her to use the chair, and sent him on his way. Kid comes back a couple minutes later and says ‘no, she insists you take the money’ and drops it on the porch. I picked it up marched next door to talk to her and no one answers the door. So I call over there. No answer. Guess she’s mad.

I feel awful about what happened and I meant it when I said it was my fault. I tried calling over there again to talk about it just a short while ago and no answer. Guess she’s really mad. I want to return the money and I also want to apologize to her once again. But right now there’s no communication.

They’re great neighbors, so how do I make things right here?

Don’t worry about trying to give her the money back. It’s a way for her to save face. Consider writing her a thank you note where you say something like “Thank you so much for your generosity. We are lucky to live next to such a nice neighbor.”

She’s embarassed.

I’d let it go and give her some space. Keep the money but don’t spend it. You might discreetly return it after a while, or use it for a gift that you can leave on their doorstep or something after some time goes by.

Keep the money. It matters to her. Put it toward a couple of new, sturdier out door chairs, and if she ever comes back, refer to them as her gift.

I would also keep the money, but use it to pay for the next cookout you have with them. Maybe get something special for her and her son. You both sound like people I’d want for neighbors!

She’s not mad, she’s embarrassed as heck. I agree - use it to buy some sturdier chairs and next time she visits be sure she’s able to use one.

I think it’s important to remember that the messenger is a kid. I’m not entirely confident that this important nugget was relayed to the mother: “…and said not to worry about it, it was an old chair and if anyone was sorry it was me”.

Yeah, that thought crossed my mind as well. I’d give my own kid about a 7% chance it’d get passed along if he was the messenger. Which is also why I marched over to ensure the communication was clear.

I know for a fact she’s extremely sensitive about her weight, and this has to be killing her. I wish I could just snap my fingers and reverse time so I never offered her the flimsy chair - what the heck was I thinking

Send a thank you note, via your son. Point out you are riddled with guilt as you should have fetched the other chair. You should have listened to her, a guest in your home, and deeply regret not doing so. Tell her how embarrassed you feel and that you are heartbroken to think that she might feel embarrassed when she did everything right. Further you obstinately refused her kind offer of money, for a new chair, which wasn’t a cool to do to a friend.

Then propose that you’re keeping the money and intend to use it for a ‘do over’ ! It shall be spent only on more BBQ makings and everyone returns and this time, you won’t behave like an ass!

Then point out your long and great friend/neighbour/coparent rekationship is so much more valuable to your family than a stupid worn old chair. And that you’re hoping and praying your long standing good family relationships should mean that y’all can move on and get past this.

How about it?
Do Over! Do Over! Do Over!
(And we never speak of this again! I beg you!)

Just make it sweet, and easy, self deprecating and a little fun, and see if she doesn’t want to move on and get passed all the awkward too!

I think you can do it!

Wish you Good Luck!

This is good advice. Invite them back.

Agree with the others, keep the money and be done with it. Every time you try to give it back to her, you’re reminding her about the situation.

Give her a few days and I’d imagine she’ll be fine. Personally, I wouldn’t even attempt to apologize, she’s clearly very embarrassed, no point in bring it up again a few days or weeks later.

If you really feel bad about the money, either buy a few stronger chairs (as someone mentioned) or find some way to give it back. IE, have another cookout or invite her to a movie etc.

This is a very bad idea, IMO. Go a head and get some sturdy chairs, but do not call attention to them in any way.

Don’t ever even speak the word “chair” in her presence.

I think I would get a Thank You card and write a note in it about what you said to her kid, it was your fault for not checking, and so on.

I once broke a chair of my own in my own house in front of my in-laws, during the visit where I first met them (we were hosting my husband’s 3 sisters on a visit to the US and they were staying with us). I should have been embarrassed but I wasn’t. I knew I was fat and they knew I was fat and they didn’t laugh at me, only asked if I was OK. I’m sure you treated your neighbor at least that well. Let her know that you know something about how she might feel.

And then I agree with the others, use the money to buy good sturdy outdoor chairs.

By the way, as a heavy and tall-ish person I can say that I much prefer a chair that is easy to get into and out of, i.e. not built too low to the ground.

How old are the kids? Why not keep the money but use it to treat both of the boys to something.

Can only agree with the general consensus to keep the money to help her pride. As a severely overweight person, I am always terrified of sitting in chairs that are anything but solid wood or metal. I refuse to sit in plastic chairs and even the fabric, folding ‘camping chairs’ are iffy. If that had happened to me, I would have been absolutely mortified. And having self esteem issues on top of that makes it even worse. You can’t just laugh it off, you can’t act like it didn’t happen because you can’t stop reliving the embarrassment over and over in your head. I bet you money what’s going through her head right now is “If I give them some money for the chair, at the very least I know they won’t be mad about me breaking the chair, even though I’m sure they’re talking about what a fat ass I am…” Or something along those lines. She doesn’t see any of it as your fault and it’s entirely hers for being so fat. Again, these are the kind of thoughts many overweight people have, I know I do. She’s trying to ‘end’ the situation by paying for the chair in the hopes that this will never be brought up again. It’s not the healthiest way of thinking but…well sometimes you can’t help it.

emphasis mine

strongly agree with this

Good answer.

I’m curious whether the neighbor has the $40 to spare, and also whether you think the neighbor is more affluent or less affluent than you are.

Yeah I wouldn’t say the new chairs are a gift because it just reminds everyone of the original incident or encourages questions from people who don’t already know what happened.

Here is a bad idea: motion toward the new chairs and say, with pride in your voice, “Let’s see you break those!”