Friday, August 08, 2008

Block Mom

My summer quest has been to get my kids playing outside as much as possible. Seems simple, right? WRONG! My kids are the type that prefer to be indoors. I think it's because we get such short summers here that the majority of their lives are spent inside. You'd THINK that would only make them crave the outdoors even more, but no. I mean, there is no Wii outside. Or computers. Did you know?!? Shocking. Also, no videos! What is a kid to do?!

Enter the nagging, annoying mom (played by yours truly) who declares that the kids MUST play outside and that there is to be no electronic interaction for the entire afternoon. Whining and pouting ensue but to no avail. The mom holds firm. Go outside. NOW. I've even taken to literally LOCKING them in the backyard just to keep them out there and prevent them from creeping back in.

And out backyard should be pretty damn fun for a kid, if I do say so myself. I mean, we have a tire swing, a slide/fort thingy, grass and trees, and I set up the badminton net. We have a deck with a basketball hoop (albeit one of those plastic ones that go only up to 5 or 6 feet tall at the most, but still - !). Every other kid who comes to our backyard loves it. My kids? You'd think it was their torture chamber.

So fine, play in the front. I've laid down the law about their boundaries (light post on one end, basketball hoop 4 doors down on the other end). The street gets very little traffic - just residents, mostly - and it has a slight slope. I've allowed Nicholas to play out front if he stays within his limits, and if he's out there with her, Lauren can play in the front, too. I check on them, but I don't feel like I have to be out there every second, hovering. The kids are really good about respecting their boundaries. They ride bikes and scooters and such, and I make sure to set out these cones we have on either end of their boundaries to make sure cars slow down and watch for kids.

But now? Now that Nicholas and Lauren are outside pretty much everyday? Now all the other neighborhood kids are flocking to my yard. Suddenly my house is the center of the social scene on my street. You guys are out playing? Ok, then I'll come play, too! Just yesterday I had my two kids, the two girls from next door, the two girls from across the street, and the kid from a few houses down in my backyard. The day before? Swap two of the kids for two different kids, all having races down the street on my kids' bikes/twist cars/scooters. The day before that? The kid from down the street essentially invited himself to dinner (a first) and when his older brother came to tell him to come home, stayed for dessert, too.

When it's just my kids playing by themselves I don't feel like I need to supervise every second. I know my kids and I know what they do (for now - in a few years? Not so much...). But when neighbor kids come over I feel like I need to be present more. Watch more closely. Held responsible. Which is fine - I truly think it's the best thing that the neighbor kids all really want to play at our house. I get to know the kids, my kids have friends to play with, and I know what everyone is doing. BUT, it makes it hard to get stuff done, you know? Instead of sitting and folding the laundry, I'm in the backyard making sure the hordes aren't using the fragile badminton racquets as tools to dig in the dirt. Or hit the trees with. Or that someone isn't trying to make a swimming pool in the far corner of the yard, generating more mud and mess than I want to know about. I'm sitting on the front steps making sure that the kids are all taking turns with the scooters. Or that they're watching for cars. Or fetching a band-aid when someone inevitably falls. I'm the street mom, I guess. The other parents are usually nowhere to be seen, trusting that I'm the one keeping an eye on things. I'm also spending my time fending off the endless, mind-numbing questions that seem to spill out of 4-6 year olds:

"Mrs. Neighbor? Can we play inside your house?" No, we're playing OUTSIDE.
"But Mrs. Neighbor! I really wanna play inside your house! My mom would say I could!!" I know she would, but we're playing outside. We're not going inside right now.

Whine. Pout.

"Miss MP, I'm hungry. Can I have a snack? I think you have popsicles in your garage - can I have one?" Not right now. If you're hungry, go get a snack from your mom.

And on it goes. I usually end up bringing out extra snacks because it wouldn't be fair to just bring something out for my kids and not everyone else. I'm going through a lot of Goldfish crackers.

And yet, I wouldn't have it any other way. Our house is the center of the social scene on our block and I think it's great. I like that other kids have fun here. I like that they like my kids. I like that they like me. Even the young teenagers are starting to hang around. They talk to me. I'm engaged and THERE. Watching. Paying attention. Keeping things going and orderly, relatively speaking. I don't want to be the referree, prefering the kids to work things out if conflicts arise, but there if they need me to intervene. I'm there to suggest a game when things get "boring" (have become a master hopscotch artist with sidewalk chalk - huzzah!). I've printed off the rules for 4-square so kids could read for themselves how to play (WHAT are they teaching kids at recess that they don't know 4-square? I swear - !) Freeze tag is big around here. I've taught the overly-sheltered girl across the street how to drink directly from the hose, a summer tradition. You're thirsty? There's the hose. That's the rule - I'm not a waitress ferrying drinks from the kitchen. You're hot? Wet down your hair and sit in the shade - take a break. Nope, we're not going inside. I'll even spray you with water to help you cool off. That's what summer is all about!

I find I'm sort of in the middle in terms of leniency. The kids down the street? Get WAAAYYY more freedom than my kids. Their just-turned 6, going-into-1st-grade son (youngest of 3 boys) knocked on my door this afternoon to invite my kids to come with him to the park. He was with a friend of the same age and they were unattended. The park is several blocks away, nearly a mile by car, shorter via walking path. There is NO WAY I'd allow my kids to go to the park by themselves at this age. NO WAY. But this kid? Apparently he can. He also rides his bike all around without a helmut. And sometimes without shoes. His parents are originally from Russia and Israel, so there may be a cultural thing happening. Regardless, he has the most freedom. He's the nicest kid and I really like him, but he gets to do stuff my kids can't do yet. However, on the other end of the spectrum is the girl across the street who is nearly 8 and who's dad claims isn't ready for a bike yet, for starters. Also, she's "unaccustomed to the heat and exertion" of the kids playing out front the other day. She was having fun with everyone, but was flush. They all were - riding scooters and bikes up and down the street, laughing, etc. dad came out to make sure she was drinking water and asked her to come back inside for a bit to cool down and "rest". Gimme a break! She was fine! She was drinking water and making friends. But at least she was allowed outside at all. Some other kids aren't allowed past their driveway. They're 5.5 and 6 and can only play in their backyard. So they cling to the fence, talking incessantly, and asking to come play in our yard. They don't have bikes, but they have tricycles they can't bring around to the front. So they can only stand and watch the fun or wait for kids to play in the backyard.

Regardless of the parental preferences, I'm spending my summer teaching my kids to make the most of summer. To have fun outdoors. To find ways to entertain themselves that don't involve electricity or batteries. To use their imaginations. To be physical and healthy. And if other kids are learning that from me, too? Even better! It's hard to measure my productivity these days as a result, but I know that my efforts will pay big dividends in years to come. I think I rather enjoy being the "block mom".

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