I scanned the streets of my neighborhood this morning, looking for signs of life. I looked for humans – breathing, walking people. I listened for sounds of human activity.
It's very quiet on this block. The only sounds on this street besides the birds are made by passing cars.
When someone does come home, the garage doors open, the neighbor's vehicle tucks inside, and the door quickly closes behind them, so quickly it's as if they don't want to be seen.
No kids are walking around. No one is playing catch in the street. No bikes, no games.
I know there are nice people in this hood. This story is not about how much I dislike my neighbors; on the contrary – I couldn't possibly dislike them; I've never seen them.
There have been zillions of words written about helicopter parents, with plenty of venom directed at their hovering, doting, overpraising and dithering. I don't know if it's a byproduct of this phenomenon, but I'm more bewildered than judgmental.
My stepkids have been given what appears to be a unique level of freedom. They can leave the house, play at a friend's house, ride their bikes to Starbucks – whatever they want to do. We have strict boundaries and rules, of course, but they are rarely required to cling to their mom and me. We want them to be free-range children. We have a code word…”feral”. When that word is evoked, that means get outside, and get moving.
Sometimes it's difficult for them. It's frequently a challenge to find friends who can just hang out and ad lib play. The notion of them walking to someone's home, knocking on the door and asking “Can ________come outside?” is absolutely foreign.
When did playing with other children become an appointment – a planned, scheduled and structured play date?
This is not the first generation of parents to have to juggle work and family. Thanks to the war our politicians, banks and corporations wage against the middle class, two incomes have been required for the past 30 years. But recently it seems have kids been banned from being, well, kids.
The communities some of us live in are not conducive to random interaction. Many subdivisions are created for the automobile, not centered around parks and common spaces. You have to drive practically everywhere. That's not helpful. But that's why bicycles were invented. We tell our kids to get on their bike and just go!
Parents who do not allow their children to leave their sides often cite “danger” when asked why. This is a ridiculous excuse. Despite what local TV news and cable news channels may have you believe, the risk of your kid being abducted is microscopic, miniscule. They're in far more danger around that creepy uncle than from any windowless van driving down the street.
I have two bright, active, socially reasonable stepkids in my house. I do not want them sealed in this house like food in Tupperware. I want them interacting with other humans. They can take their phones and they can play video games – we want them to do things kids do – with other kids!
Is it okay if my kids knock on your door and pry your kid out of your house, or will we get a text/call requesting we check our calendars for a suitable week/month?