I think I am learning what it means to live in a community. What I'm saying is that it's pretty easy to hide behind the walls of your own home, particularly when your kids are young, and to believe that "doing life together" means fun play dates when your house is clean, and snacks are purchased, and activities are organized and carefully orchestrated. This is how it has always gone for us, when we had very few kids that lived on our street, and my children were too little to seek out friends and adventure on their own.
We are new to the idea of a neighborhood, in the sense that our previous home was a quiet little street that backed up to a golf course. There weren't many kids in our neighborhood, which was just off of a busy street; add to that the fact that we were basically surrounded by acres of fairways, and you get the picture of how we were kind of isolated from other families with children who would wander, looking for friends. Clearly, I could control and manipulate the kinds of adventures my kids would have--and it is now clear that they (we) were very sheltered, in this regard.
And then we moved right into the heart of the a suburb that is crawling with kids, amidst streets that look like a grid of yards and playgrounds. We are SURROUNDED by children that go to our school, and it is exactly what we were hoping for.
There is an undercurrent to this sort of lifestyle that is...difficult. And stressful. And 100% the opposite of doing things like brushing our teeth, simply and privately, as a family. And maybe those of you who live in neighborhoods like this don't even notice it anymore, or maybe you know exactly what I'm talking about, or maybe it's just not a big deal to you, or maybe (in spite of all of my sarcastic tendencies) I REALLY do need a prescription for anti-anxiety medication.
I want my kids here in our house. I want their friends here. Mostly because I know it's a safe place, but also because I want to see what's going on. I want to play a role in how they treat each other, and help to guide them in that respect--rather than letting them pull a Lord-of-the-Flies on the park playground, if you know what I mean. I want to know if there is bullying, or any of that ridiculous, clique-y, girl drama that I DESPISE. I want to hear what they are talking about. I want to have a glimpse into what is on their hearts, and how they struggle. And mostly, this is completely possible and 100% my choice, because with the exception of G, my kids are still YOUNG. Like, too young to be trusted to cross the street we live on, by themselves. I always had this idea that we would be a home that welcomes kids; but I'm beginning to understand that this is complicated. Way more complicated than hamsters and lemonade stands, contrary to what I once thought parenting was all about.
We have met a couple of sweet families that live just up the street--I've met their parents, and we seem to operate under the same set of invisible, yet understood rules of conduct. Sending our kids to knock on doors at reasonable times, checking on our kids, exchanging cell phone numbers, making sure they are with older siblings when they cross the street. We've had conversations; at least enough to agree that we are not cult leaders, mass murderers or meth addicts.
We also have a neighborhood friend whose parents we have never met. Who knocks on our door first thing in the morning, and every 15 minutes thereafter, until my kids are done with breakfast, or cleaning up, or getting dressed...and eventually, given the green light to play. It hurries everything we do, and it changes our dynamic. From what I can tell, she is a sweet girl, but most of our rules are foreign to her, and this is enough to make me CRAZY. She will ride our electric scooters without a helmet, and cross the street at any time. This doesn't seem like a big deal--until my six-year-old follows her. I repeatedly have to tell her that my kids are not allowed to cross the street without G, or myself, and they DEFINITELY need to tell me where they are going. THREE times today, my kids have been across the street and around the block, without a single word. Now, that isn't her fault, because I FULLY expect my children to know better (simply because it's our routine)--but her presence CHANGES the way we work. And it's stressful.
No one ever comes by the check up on her, or tell her to come home for dinner, or introduce themselves to the woman whose house she willingly walks into. On the one hand, it is incredibly sad; and on the other, incredibly frustrating to have to be the watch dog, and the bad cop for someone else's kid (whom I never met). My kids are not allowed to be over at her house (though she never offers that), because I just know nothing about it--and I've never come upon a situation like this, where friendship and responsibility are a one way street. Parenting freaking sucks when you have to carry through with consequences, or take away privileges, or generally be an ADULT that manages the 274+ situations that could land a kid in the emergency room at any given time; and it's even harder to do this for someone else's kid. And then there are the personality dynamics to deal with, and trying to watch the hearts of little girls ranging from ages seven to ten. It's IMPOSSIBLE. Or maybe I'm just overwhelmed, because we are new here, and there is a steep learning curve. And it's a hell of a lot harder than it looks, this business of balancing responsible parenting, with the fun moments of walking eight kids to the neighborhood candy store (pictured).
I'm not complaining (well, mostly not complaining)--but merely making a statement of how this careful little childhood bubble I have created is being tested and refined. And it is FREAKING me out.
As Mike reminded me tonight, welcoming kids into our home and working on rules and boundaries is GREAT practice for the teenage years, when dangerous habits refer to street drugs, and not improper street crossing. I have a feeling that the ages of 13-19 are going to do wonderful things for my PERSPECTIVE.