Friday, July 2, 2010

Neighborhood Recess (Babble)

You wouldn’t think too much would change in terms of life in the neighborhood when you move across the street.  I mean, we moved a matter of feet away from where we lived for ten years, so the joke for awhile was about getting to know the new neighbors, which (except for the people who bought our old house) are obviously all the same neighbors as before.  But, weirdly enough, we do interact with different people on the new side of the street.

The first time I noticed this was when the girls were still in school and Quinn wanted to take his trike around the block.  When you have really small children it’s convenient to stick close to home, and where we live that means usually not leaving our specific block.  Crossing the street can be hazardous, so it’s less stressful to just go round and round the same sidewalk trail again and again which always leads us back to our house. 

We knew every inch of the old block.  Which houses had dogs, which ones had wind chimes in the garden to ring, which ones had friends we could visit.  The new block is, well…new.  And it’s a different kind of block because the whole back half of it is an apartment building and directly behind us is its parking lot.  It’s one big building whose inhabitants are mysterious to us still.  Even houses where you don’t personally know the people have a personality and you can figure out at least little things about the owners.  But the apartment building doesn’t offer many clues, other than the cigarette butts outside and an occasional abandoned beer or pop can.

In any case, when you travel around the same block a hundred times in a week you run into other people tethered to small children traveling the same path.  This was how I came to know a new collection of parents in the neighborhood, and it’s been the start of something really nice, namely Neighborhood Recess.

Neighborhood Recess was the brainchild of a couple down the street from us with two small boys.  After chatting with me a few times when I was out with Quinn, a dad from around the corner stopped by one evening with his kids and asked if my girls would like to come play kickball for an hour.  I couldn’t go with them because Quinn was asleep, but I told Aden and Mona they could go with the man with the baby strapped to his chest if they wanted to.  They were hesitant since this wasn’t someone they knew yet, but at some point you have to start trusting people, and the guy with the contented eight month old snoozing on his chest seemed like a safe bet.

It’s hard to let your kids venture into the world without you, but I think it’s important.  I know I keep a tighter leash on my kids than my parents kept on me when I was a child, but I get nervous.  And it’s not that I think I live in more dangerous times.  I grew up in the era of the Oakland County Child Killer, and my best friend lived not too far from where one little girl was snatched, and we still all just roamed the neighborhood and made our way home at dinnertime. 

But it’s harder nowadays when you can go online and find the addresses of all the registered sex offenders in your neighborhood to feel as trusting of the people around you.  When news stations replay scary stories about bad things happening to children again and again, it feels like it’s actually happening again and again.  I remember how much more fearful my grandmother got in the last few years in her house when she was in front of the TV too much.  I would remind her that if she only had what she could see for herself outside her own window to go on, she’d be convinced nothing ever happened besides the grass growing and the sun rising and setting.  We let other people define reality for us too often.  We need to be informed, but we also need to trust our own senses.  And my senses tell me that as far as keeping my kids safe, I trust my neighbors.

So back to Neighborhood Recess….  I mentioned there is a parking lot directly behind our house.  On the next block behind us, past the parking lot, is an empty field.  Because I can stand in my kitchen or yard and look directly over the parking lot to the field, it feels like the field is directly behind our house.  The street to cross to get to it isn’t busy, so I have no problem sending the girls out the back door to play in the field without me.  There are about three or four other couples who gather in the field with their kids one set evening a week for an hour and organize a game or two.  It’s a blast.  Any kids who wander by are encouraged to join in, and often they do.  Sometimes it’s kickball, sometimes soccer, sometimes freeze tag…. 

The best new game I learned was ‘Bear, Salmon, Mosquito’ which is kind of like a tag version of ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors.’  (There are two teams, and each team decides as a group what they will all be when they turn around and face the other team.  Bears eat Salmon, Salmon eat Mosquitoes, and Mosquitoes eat Bears, so if one team turns around and pretends to be Bears and the other team turns around at the same time and pretends to be Salmon, the team of Bears gets to chase the Salmon and see how many they can tag to join their team, and then both teams pick something new and do it again.  Crazy fun.)  It’s nice because the parents are all clever about finding ways to include everyone, so babies get paired up with adults and toddlers always get a shot at the ball, and older kids like mine still get to play a real game.

Aden loves it and has made several friends.  Mona thinks she loves it until she gets there and then she gets shy.  Sometimes she participates, and sometimes she just gets her scooter and glides along the sidewalk on the fringe of the action.  Quinn, despite some nice experiences when I coaxed him out to the field with the rest of us, preferes to play in the sandbox in our yard, so I don’t get to go play as often as I’d like.  Most of the time I end up pushing Quinn on the swing and peeking my head over the fence every few minutes to catch a glimpse of Aden running up and down the field and laughing with the neighborhood kids.  It’s such a lovely idea, and I’m so glad someone was inspired enough to literally get the ball rolling.  When Ian comes home it will be a nice way for him to get to know some of the new people I’ve met since he left while getting some exercise with our own kids.

Neighborhood Recess has become another one of the those routines set in stone for my children that they look forward to every week (like Friday Night Movie Night).  Even Quinn who doesn’t participate very often thinks it’s important that we be home for Neighborhood Recess.  I wonder if everyone will be up to a snowsuit version come November….

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