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Here Goes the Neighborhood

Here Goes the Neighborhood
By Kelly Hogaboom

On weekdays during the school year, I look outside my window and it seems no one's around. Houses are buttoned up and people are either off at paid employment or keeping to themselves indoors. Our mossy and broken-up sidewalks are empty and there are no kids to be seen (unless you count mine, who don't go to school and are free to run around during the day). During the winter months, these experiences of isolation and darkness and neighborhood emptiness can be a bit unsettling; barren tree branches stab up at a gloomy sky and I hear naught but the occasional pickup truck gunning by. No sounds of music, television, a skateboard ramp, conversations, cussing or laughter - and no sign of children.

But on the weekends and in the evenings, especially in clement weather – and daily during the summer – the neighborhood blooms. Neighbors mow their lawns and cats roll on sun-warmed driveways and older couples walk their little dogs. Kids come bursting out of every other house it seems – and the community, in general, parents them. Rules loosen about where a child can go and with whom – I like to think because parents have too much kid on their hands and the kind of rigorous text-me-every-fourth-step-you-take becomes impractical. The children run on their bikes out to the bay inlet or to the corner store, sometimes not even in shoes (well, again, we're talking about my kids). A great many people are outside and it seems our public health and experience of community benefit thusly.

 

We pure-luck moved into a kid-friendly neighborhood, since we took the most affordable rental we could in December 2009 and at first it seemed there weren't many children about at all. I'm happy to have since discovered they were merely in hibernation. Children are the most democratic and easy-to-please of houseguests, running through my house and yard and unabashedly casing the joint. And contrary to what people will claim about the child class, they don't seek out couch-sitting television-watching while consuming vast quantities of Mountain Dew; or at least, they are happy to take up other alternatives. Our house boasts no video game system nor cable TV but still we have no shortage of small guests in and out and overnight. I feed them as often and as well as I can - given our financial constraints now and then, and the fact some days I'm up to my own work and a less attentive hostess. Many wise people have pointed out, and neuroscience continues to bolster this, that kids learn and grow best by playing. Setting up a kid- and play-friendly environment isn't very difficult (yes, you can jump on beds, yes, you can have as many hardboiled eggs/chocolate cake slices/glasses of milk as you want, as long as everyone who wants some gets some), and makes for a busy, energetic, and rewarding social life.

So now as the weather turns from rainy and dark to cold and clear, I'm happily anticipating the change of season. I like summer and what it brings, even when kids run muddy shoes through my house and deposit candy wrappers in my yard, occasionally (some of them) shooting BB guns at my chickens, or as in the case of the siblings who continued to run smack into our screen door, eventually busting it - another repair we don't get to very quickly, add it to the pile of To Do. I like that out on the sidewalks and in the street the kids skate and board and scooter and bike and the cars around here know to slow it down. I really like that, across the street on the corner, three majestic and gnarled trees, probably much of a hundred years old, are climbed on by the kids while the woman who lives inside - who's almost a shut-in for how little I've seen her - absolutely sanctions the tree climbing (my husband walked over to check last summer). I love a couple blocks away we have the train tracks with all the old cars and blackberry-bush trails and lush and verdant hiding spots - a world the children can make their own.

People sometimes talk about how much childhood has supposedly changed in America, but it seems to me when we make the world friendly for children, it's as much as it ever was. We can make this world and by making it, remind ourselves of how good the world can be.

Kelly Hogaboom is a lady, writer, mother, wife, sister, daughter, stitcher, and knitter living in wet and green Hoquiam, Washington State, the United States. She writes for several online and print publications. This essay was published in 2011. You can find her personal website at kelly.hogaboom.org and her social justice zine at underbellie.com.

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