When I was growing up we always played outside— in the summer we stayed out until the street lights hit, then we took the party to the porch. Back then kids weren’t bombarded with activities and camps; we weren’t allowed to sit around playing video games.
Call me a throwback mama, If you will, but I make sure my kids go outside to play—a lot! They have a basketball hoop, rollerblades, bikes, a scooter, riding toys, and when all that gets boring, they still have the grass and the dirt. I’m learning, however, that there’s a certain demographic of people in the neighborhoods I’ve lived in (there’s been quite a few) that don’t seem to feel the same way.
A few years ago we lived in a historic neighborhood in Virginia– most of the residents were white, either older, long time residents or single professionals—not many families with kids. One day I get a knock on the door from a neighbor, he doesn’t want my kids riding bikes in front of his house. “But it’s the sidewalk,” I retorted, to which his response was, “but they’re turning around on my grass.”
The grass which he spoke of was the tree-lawn—easy remedy, I figured. “Okay, I’ll have them turn around in the street.” Next came his bogus concern, “but your kids shouldn’t be in the street.”
I could feel my patience slowly drain, still I assured this neighbor that I knew the competency of my kids to turn around in our virtually traffic-less street, nevertheless, he had more. “But if they ride their bikes near my house they might scratch my car.” At this point I was on fire. First it was his grass, then it was his fake fear for my children’s safety, then it went to “possible” damage to his car—our conversation was done. My children continued to ride their bikes as usual, and magically his vehicle stayed damage-free.
Sadly, that hasn’t been an isolated incident. In almost every neighborhood I’ve lived in, there has been at least one neighbor, always Caucasian, who seems distressed about my kids playing outside; they always come under the guise of concern. “Hey, I noticed your kids ride their bikes without helmets.” “Why, yes– yes they do. Did you know that’s not against the law?” Concerned neighbor instantly goes away. Another neighbor, in yet another town, tells my son “I know your mother lets you ride your bike in the street, but I personally don’t think it’s safe.” My response, ever so sweetly to said neighbor, “Did you know that it’s actually safer to ride a bike in the street? Plus, my son is twelve so…….” Same story, “concerned” neighbor goes away.
You can’t have five kids who you send outside to play, and it not attract every other neighborhood kid within the sound of their voice. Sure, they’re making noise: they’re yelling and laughing and squealing just like most adolescents do. But, it’s not at six in the morning or at ten at night– they’re out at respectable hours of the day.
So I ponder why these neighbors are really annoyed. Is it because my kids are the visual representation of their changing neighborhood? Would they be so bothered if my kids were white? Who knows! Whatever the reason, it really doesn’t matter; in whatever neighborhood I’m in, for as long as they can, I will sending my kids out to play– while black!