Freedom vs Safety (No, This Is Not About the War on Terror)


Photo: tellurideinside.com

Every now and then I make myself unpopular with many of my neighbors. We have a Yahoo group, which is great, because with lightning speed we can get the word out about a lost dog or a scam artist in the neighborhood. But sometimes it can get contentious, and when it does, it seems that I’m often right in the middle of it. I have no idea why, because I’m just mild, non-confrontational, li’l ole me, right readers?

For example, I have found, to my astonishment, that one sure way to make enemies in the neighborhood is to bluntly point out imperfections in the behavior of their children.

When I grew up, in a pretty kid- and pedestrian-friendly environment in the Netherlands, my parents nevertheless made sure I knew to stay on the sidewalk. It just makes evolutionary sense, in my opinion, to do what you can to improve your kids’ chances of survival.

In my American suburban neighborhood, however, the kids played in the street. Mind you, our neighborhood is unusually kid- and pedestrian-friendly. We have sidewalks on both sides of the street, pretty big front yards and large backyards, an expansive greenbelt with a very cool creek and playgrounds and sports fields.

But the kids–and I’m talking two years old and up–played in the street. And the parents stood looking on how their little darlings on their skateboards went flying off self-made launchpads on the edge of the sidewalk straight out onto the tarmac. Such fun! Other kids learned to ride their bikes by riding wobbly circles in the middle of the road, even though there was a perfectly good,completely deserted school parking lot available around the corner for learning to ride bicycles.

What got me the most wasn’t even the kids in the street, but the parents looking on, encouraging their offspring to treat the street as their playground, and–get this–giving me dirty looks as I drove by, as if I was the one with no business being on the road!

So when the subject came up in a roundabout way on the neighborhood Yahoo group, I had a more direct thing or two to say about it. Like all of the above. The overwhelming response was–in a nutshell–that they all loved their kids and the kids should be free to play and be happy, and that some people (meaning me) must not like kids.

I responded that if they loved their kids, they should want to teach them basic survival skills like staying on the sidewalk, instead of actively encouraging them to show off how they can fly out into the street on their skateboards, making them as unpredictable as squirrels.

I do love children, by the way. In fact, two of my most favorite people are children. I’d like to say that I even have a binder full of kids, but I’d be lying. Our two kids learned to stay off the street, and they practiced cycling on empty parking lots on Sundays (back when we lived in a neighborhood without sidewalks). Because T and I love our kids so much that we would hate to see them get run over.

And I, in turn, would hate to run over someone else’s kid, but there is only so much I can do to prevent that when I’m behind the wheel. I can drive five miles per hour and still do some serious damage to a kid who unexpectedly flies into the street on a bike or a skateboard. If (perish the thought) I ever did hit a child with my car, I would have to live with that for the rest of my life, and I resent parents who would put their children and me at risk of an accident by refusing to take their parental responsibility.

Variations of the knee-jerk  theme You’re a child-hating party pooper trickled into my e-mailbox for a while longer, but, starting the very next day, the kids in our neighborhood were actually on the sidewalk more often. So it ended up being a small victory for common sense, evolution and yes, for me. Yay!

Of course, kids will be kids so occasionally one of them still comes flying into the road from a driveway, and especially when it happens in the dark it almost gives me a heart attack.  But at least they’re not doing it while their parents are standing by, smiling proudly at their recklessness.

So where do you stand on this issue? Vote below.

70 responses to “Freedom vs Safety (No, This Is Not About the War on Terror)

  1. I vote for 4. Survival of the fittest.
    Any kids who learn from their parents the street is for playing on, should be…

    Well I’m probably the child-hater/party pooper too. Funny thing is, I have 2 kids and they are still alive, because I taught them the street is for cars :)

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  2. Preaching to the choir, RA! I like your poll though I couldn’t resist going for the child-hater option. Actually, two of my favorite people are children too and yes, we taught them not to play in the street because a) I hate trips to the hospital and b) we have a yard and c) the church down the street had a parking lot and a bike trail where they learned to ride. One of our sons is autistic so it was even more important that we keep him away from the street. He wouldn’t have noticed a speeding car so when he was outside, he played exclusively in our fenced-in back yard or the play ground at the church (also fenced and with me always just a few feet away) until he was 12 or so. I understand that other parents can let their kids be more independent but you’d think they’d want them to be safe.

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    • Barbara Backer-Gray

      Exactly. And how can you expect a three-year-old that it’s okay to play all over the street when Mommie is there to watch over you, and that you have to switch mindsets when Mommie’s not around and remember to stay off the street or at least watch for cars?
      Yes, with autistic kids it’s even more important to have clear rules and safety measures. Our son was extremely inattentive when he was younger, and even though he isn’t autistic, he could just cross the street looking nowhere but lovingly into my eyes as he walked toward me, and I would just about have a fit. I thought I’d never get it in his head that he had to look both ways first. But he’s fifteen now and doing fine. I hope it gets easier for you, too.

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  3. The street we live on is fairly busy so it can be dangerous for kids to play on. There have only been a few times in which I’ve seen older kids play basketball on the street–hardly ever the younger kids. Most of the young kids in our area tend to play on the front yard and back yard. I don’t mind the back yard playing, but the front yard playing frustrates me when it’s a shared lawn. I often worry about having a soccer ball or hockey puck come flying through our window. These kids aren’t playng on the street so it’s safe for them, but I still think sports like soccer or hockey should be played in a school yard or park where property won’t be damaged.

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  4. ” … some people (meaning me) must not like kids.” So they concluded that you hate kids because you’d rather not run them down? o_O

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  5. At the risk of flip-flopping on the issue, I’d say it depends on what kind of neighborhood where children play. If there are parks, playgrounds or other public spaces which permit outdoor activity — which should be plentiful in suburban neighborhoods and are based on your description — , then street play wouldn’t be a good idea.

    But if such recreational areas are in short supply, as they are in densely populated urban areas, then it’s appropriate and expected for kids to play on the streets. Either way carries the presumption that kids are taught survival and socialization skills appropriate to the environment.

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  6. Pingback: No Kids Allowed « Spirit Lights The Way

  7. This is a STELLAR post and post ~ you made me laugh out loud with option #2. Here’s to being more right than others. :mrgreen:

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  8. Oops . . . that should be “post and poll.” :oops:

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  9. You folks are lucky: our neighborhood in Minnesota has no sidewalks. And we live on a curve with a giant spruce tree blocking the view. My kids have survival skills drilled into them, and I also drive 5 mph on my street to be safe. In Seattle, my kids also had no sidewalks.

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  10. Those kids are lucky you live in their neighbourhood.
    For me it’s almost a sense of arrogance that parents can feel like it’s “okay” for their kids to be on the street, because everyone else will watch out for them. A street is not a play-zone and people don’t expect it to be one. Like you say, even when driving 5 miles an hour a car can cause some serious damage to a child.
    Great post and good for you for standing up for common sense!
    iRuniBreathe

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  11. My family had it’s own urban legend about a woman (a family friend) who grew up on a quiet street. She crossed the street by herself, played in the street with her friends, etc, and never worried about cars. Then when she got into the big city, wham! A car came by and she had to be airlifted to the hospital and was in surgery for hours. I really don’t know how much of the story is true, but the moral shaped my view of kids in the street. I live on a quiet street with my three year old, and because it’s quiet, I think it’s *more* important that I teach him how to be safe. He doesn’t have to look for cars, they are never there. If he runs out in the street in front of my house, chances are he’ll be fine. But if he gets into the habit of doing this, rather than forcing him to adopt safe habits (even though he’ll probably be fine on his own street), he could end up being airlifted to the nearest hospital and spending the next several hours in surgery to pick out bits of car from his tender flesh.

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  12. As a mom of four kids who have managed to stay alive this long, all I can say is BRAVO! My youngest wanted to ride his bike in the street like his older siblings but I had to keep reminding him that cars cannot see him. I had to be on the porch all of the time to watch them. Thanks for saying it OUTLOUD.

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    • Barbara Backer-Gray

      Good for you. Judging by the comments I’ve gotten, those mothers in my subdivision are the only parents in the country who didn’t agree. Until they did, of course. Because I’m always right ;-)

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  13. When I was a teenager, I was stopped in the street by an angry mother who said I would drive too fast down her dead-end street on my way to pick up a friend. I was always the responsible sort of kid, so it was pretty frustrating to be accosted by this grown-up who didn’t want to be responsible for what might happen to her child in the street. I didn’t see why I couldn’t OBEY THE SPEED LIMIT and drive down her PUBLIC street (as the Department of Motor Vehicles had given me license – literally – to do). I ended up telling the mother of my friend (the angry mother’s, neighbor, then as it were). She gave me the best advice EVER.

    When this angry woman mouths off again, just say “I hear you,” she told me. That means nothing. It only means “My ears work.” But, it might be interpreted to mean that you agree with her, which will get her to shut up. You won’t actually MEAN to agree, but you will not be a confrontational jerk and will still get to end the conversation your way.

    In any situation now, when I want to politely win (and I don’t care if others KNOW that I have won), I say, “I hear you.” And laugh on the inside.

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    • Barbara Backer-Gray

      Aha! That’s good to know. So when someone says to me, “I hear you,” they think they’ve won. Which isn’t true, because I’m always right. :-)

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  14. There is a group of parents (I do not have kids) who are so utterly selfish they do not know or care that their children live in a larger world — with other people in it, who also have needs. In the past week, I sat in an expensive adult restaurant (in NY) where the female child decided to sit upside down and placed her sneaker soles in our faces over the banquette. The only response from the mother? “You’ll hurt yourself.”. Not, “Stop it. That is really rude!”

    And this morning a mother held up two cars behind the school bus as she kept speaking to her child in the bus door — as though the drivers simply did not exist.

    Welcome to the rampant individualism that is deeply American — and NOT at all Dutch.

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    • Barbara Backer-Gray

      I agree. Sometimes I see parents placing their toddler–in a onesie over a diaper–on the table to tie the child’s shoes or something. It sure reminds me why not to ever eat anything that fell off my plate!

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  15. Common sense left the building a long time ago in our culture both in the USA , and the UK where I live. What you say is so obvious it shouldn’t even need to be pointed out…..

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  16. Good for you for speaking up.The dangers of playing in the street is something nobody should have to learn ‘the hard way.’ The mark of a true community is people looking out for each other… even if that means conflict. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed :)

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  17. I think a combination of the two would be perfect … if we could all watch out a bit more and if children’s parents taught them rules we all would have more freedom. I love the idea of children being able to play BUT I also think that we without kids need parents to take responsibility

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  18. That is nice your neighborhood has a Yahoo group. You are lucky I think to have that. Although it is always good to watch what you say and how you say it.

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  19. I can’t see the poll on my tablet, but I would vote for teaching the little darlings safe behavior over recklessness, any day!

    I spent a year and a half in the Leeuwarden area when I was a teen, as my dad had work there for a while. I attended the local school and became rather fluent in Nederlands, and could sort-of get along a little bit in Freisian (at least enough to ask them to speak something I knew). There are times I still miss the place, though I don’t remember any of my Nederlands anymore. I would love to go back and visit someday!

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    • Barbara Backer-Gray

      That’s great! My grandfather was from Friesland. Actually, it sounds to me like a mix between Dutch and English, so if you had been there a bit longer, you would probably have picked it up pretty easily. I hope you get to go back.

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  20. Basic survival skills!!!! Priceless!!!!

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  21. We live in Australia, and – while my children (almost 18 & 12) have had a great deal of freedom while they were growing up – the road has never been their playground. We have huge back yards and there are plenty of parks and places to go, so there is no real reason to play on the road.

    There are a lot of reasons why the road is not a good choice here too – it’s hot (really hot – even in Winter), it’s hard and rough (if you fall on it, or roll on it, you can do real damage), and a good proportion of Australian drivers are maniacs (especially in the suburbs).

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    • Barbara Backer-Gray

      I lived in Australia as a kid, and I sure remember the tarmac in summer! We lived near the beach, so we would there barefoot, but there was this little stretch where we had to cross the street. I swear, it’s a miracle the tar didn’t stick to our soles sometimes.

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  22. There's a frog on my Sprocket!

    there are children in my neighborhood whom i wish would play in traffic but nonetheless i believe teaching ones tricycle motors to avoid 3000lb rolling death kid crushers is advisable… kids should play in the grass, unless one lives on grass streets or a golf course then kids should of course simply remain indoors affixed to video game consuls…

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    • Barbara Backer-Gray

      Haha! And they don’t have to be in the grass in our neighborhood to still be safe. They can cycle and rollerblad and rollerskate on the sidwalks.

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  23. If it’s a street with basically no traffic (side street off a main road that’s a dead end) I think it’s pretty safe. Otherwise, you’re right.

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  24. It’s not just about the safety of the kids. How would these people feel if someone swerved into a tree trying to avoid a child on the road? Or if a child on a bike went through a windscreen and injured someone?

    A couple of days ago I encountered two children in the local supermarket, one riding a scooter and the other on a small bicycle, racing around the aisles. Their mother was shopping and did nothing to supervise them or put a stop to their behaviour. I was flabbergasted at what I regard as selfishness and lack of consideration for others. Unfortunately it seems this is becoming more prevalent.

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  25. Fine on a quiet street, stupid on a busy street.

    Parents just gotta use common sense, and also let the majority rule (within reason).

    And I guess if you ever find yourself in the minority, just accept it. This will be balanced out by the many more times you’ve been in the majority group.

    http://cartoonmick.wordpress.com/humorous-illustration/#jp-carousel-292

    Cheers

    Mick

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  26. I agree totally that kids should be taught safety around the roads. In our old neighborhood, kids didn’t play in the street because it was just too busy with car traffic, but we were just a block from a fantastic city park, and it wasn’t too difficult to move the bike-riding and hill-sledding and impromptu soccer games over there. In our current neighborhood, we’re on a cul-de-sac, so there’s less traffic, and our sidewalks are in various states of disrepair (what sidewalks we have). Not only do the kids ride and play and run in the streets, but the adults do, too (except the adults do more running and dog-walking and less playing). I feel nervous when I come around the corner into a mid-street soccer game, but the kids in our neighborhood seem very aware of the fact that they are in a street and courteously move out of the way for me (and any cars). This might also be due in part to the fact that several years before we moved here, a child was killed when he rode his bike down the hill and the neighbor, in his car, didn’t see the child soon enough to stop. Like you say, the car wasn’t going very fast, but it was going fast enough. I have to imagine that parents’ messages to their kids about street-play had to have moved towards the “more cautious” after that incident.

    My own kids don’t play in the street because I’m very nervous about cars. We’ve got a decent-sized yard and if they need more space, I’ll take them to the park.

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  27. I remember growing up we lived in a little side col de sac (sp?) with just a few houses inside. Kids would be outside on their bikes riding around and it would always give my Mom anxiety. This has to be an epidemic issue throughout the country. Luckily you don’t hear too many bad stories!

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  28. I’m not a parent yet, but I can remember having a similar experience to “Off Duty Mom’s” story as a teenager. I was taking my driving test out in back of the local housing projects, and there were little ones running in an out of the street, out from behind parked cars, etc. (School was out). When I finished, the instructor said I failed because I was driving too slowly. I wanted to look at her and say, “I’ll fail this test an infinite number of times before I run over somebody’s kid!” (I finally ended up retaking the test early in the morning when the kids weren’t up yet).

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    • Barbara Backer-Gray

      That’s crazy. Both how the kids were running around and that the instructor expected you to just barrel through. I’m glad that you got your license in the end.

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  29. It all depends on the neighborhood. It also depends if you live in a cul de sac or not. Here’s my in your face opinion…don’t worry about how I raise my kids, I don’t live in village. I don’t want anyone, nor will I allow anyone to force their rules onto me or dictate how my kids will be raised. I am my child’s parent and I will make the decisions, not you or the government. Most of us over age 50 grew up learning the hard way, and without helmets. Today’s young adults are for the most part overly sensitive candy asses who have no sense of independence and couldn’t walk down a city street without finding a reason to wear knee and elbow pads, much less a helmet. Ok, so now I’ll wait and read all the hate mail and let someone else prove my insensitive point.
    By the way, congrats on winning the FP lottery. I don’t agree with you, but it was well written and worth a read.

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    • Barbara Backer-Gray

      Thanks for the congrats. And congratulations right back! You are the very first person to not agree with me! I was beginning to think that the only people not agreeing with me were my neighbors. I’m over 50 myself, and I never wore a helmet either. But I was taught to stay on the sidewalk until I could cycle properly and knew the traffic rules for cyclists (yes, in the Netherlands cyclists have rules), so my parents could be reasonably confident that I wouldn’t get run over. Because we’re not talking about a scrape from a fall here. At least, I wasn’t. I’m talking about kids possible being run over and killed by me or other drivers, even if we drive at or well below the speed limit, because parents are not teaching their kids basic safety rules.
      The thing with having such a libertarian outlook as it seems you have, is that I don’t trust it. I don’t trust you to be consistent. Because if you were, and you let your kid play in the street without teaching him/her any safety rules or skills, and I ran over your kid while driving at or below the speed limit, you would just shrug your shoulders, scrape what’s left off the tarmac and chalk it up to your own parenting choices. Wanna bet that’s not how you’d react? And that’s what gets me. You and the parents in my neighborhood say that I should stay out of their business, but if I hit their kid, I’d get sued, at the very least. For reckless endangerment or whatever.
      I do my best not to run over any small children–and so far I’ve been successful, knock on wood–but parents should also do their part. Being that libertarian and living in a society simply doesn’t work. We all have to cooperate.
      So tell me, how would you react if I ran over your kid because he/she was just shooting out into the street right in front of me, at an age that he/she could have know better, if you had taken care of that?

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      • Maybe I got off on a tangent with my comment. As I stated, it all depends on the neighborhood. I would never allow my child to play in the street. A cul de sac is different and a dead end street would be in that same category. My comment was directed at the idea of someone else dictating the rules for my child raising. I have a serious problem with the “mommy” mentality of people in today’s society. In the states you can’t punish your kids in public with out fear of someone calling the police on you. I could create a blog about that here, but I think you probably have an idea where I’m coming from.

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      • Barbara Backer-Gray

        Yep, I might be the one calling the police. Let’s just agree to disagree.

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  30. I have 3 kids and I would never let them play in the street, but our street is somewhat of a thoroughfare for people and they drive WAY too fast. The one time my daughter ran into the street at 2 years old after a ball and was just seconds away from being hit by a speeding car gave me enough of a heart attack, thankyouverymuch. If we lived in a rural area where there were no cars, that might be different.

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  31. Congratulations again on being Freshly Pressed!!! Great post. I worry about the street all the time, especially since cars can drive on it pretty fast. We have group in the neighborhood that puts up cones and the kids kind of take over in that spot. The parents are really watching them so I feel like it’s safe. Otherwise, I’m with you, you need to practice common sense. There’s always the park!

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  32. Well I think a lot depends upon the age of the kids, the traffic level and what you mean by playing in the street. Kids weaving back and forth from sidewalk to street, shooting out unexpectedly into the street whenever they feel like it, on skateboards, bikes, etc? Absolutely not. But on a street with very little traffic, 11-15 year olds setting up a condensed ball game in the street, and moving out if traffic approaches? – sure if they’ve been taught the rules and they’re careful. My kids were allowed to do the latter, but not the former.

    It’s nice that you live in a neighborhood where your kids have others to play with, and that you’re getting Freshly Pressed too.

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    • Barbara Backer-Gray

      Hi. Thanks. Yes, we have older kids who throw footballs to each other across the street, and they know to watch out. But sometimes a twelve-year-old will come flying off the sidewalk on his bike, right in front of me, sometimes in the dark, even. And I think that behavior is learned when I see the smaller kids just playing all over the street with their parents looking on, thus teaching the kids that it’s okay.

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  33. What you write about is more than just the street! Here in the US, we seem to be raising our kids with a sense of entitlement that doesn’t always bode well for them. You just point out one example. And yes, I love kids. Which is why I’m trying to raise my own to be assertive but respectful. Respecting common areas is just a basic skill–you don’t seem unreasonable at all . . .

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    • Barbara Backer-Gray

      Thanks. Yes, it’s true that it’s only one piece of a larger phenomenon. This society is very child-centered. My husband and I are just as guilty of that. Our lives revolve entirely around our children and their futures. But we do try and prepare them for the real world, and that includes cars on streets.

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  34. I so know what you are talking about! Here, in Montenegro kids are almost sacred. They can do what they want wherever and whenever they want to do it. Thus, they play tennis across the street, football directly on the road. Once I saw a little girl rollerblading along the road, and when a car, which was going really slowly behind her, finally managed to overtake her, the girl smashed the car with her tiny hand, like the car, indeed, had no business to be on the road.
    But I don’t think anybody ever tells those kids or their parents that it’s wrong. As I said – kids are sacred here, nothing can be wrong with them.

    They also started a new tradition here, which I find quite weird and really not that safe. A couple of weekends a month they close the main road in our town and call it “a European day without transport” or something like this. That’s the time when the road becomes even more dangerous because all the kids pour onto the road with all kinds of wheels possible – bikes, rollerblades, little scooters and so on. But that isn’t the dangerous part, what is, is that the next day, when the road is again opened for transport, not all toddlers realize the road is no longer safe, so they try to run directly onto the road to play there again.

    Here, I shared my experience also :)

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    • Barbara Backer-Gray

      Yes, that’s the thing: it’s confusing to the young ones if they can play int he street under certain circumstances, but not others. So where are you from and what are you doing in Montenegro? Or have you always lived there and your English is just exceptional?

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  35. We moved here from Russia. It’s a nice place in many ways, but when you are a foreigner it’s easier to notice “strangeness” in things, like in this case, for example.

    Where are you from? I’m curious where your story took place. :)

    I studied English at the University and have been teaching English for many years, hence the language skills :)

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    • Barbara Backer-Gray

      I see. I’m Dutch. My blog is mostly about being Dutch in America, but this was a post based on a writing prompt. My neighborhood is in Austin, Texas.

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  36. Reblogged this on StanfordGirl and commented:
    There finally is someone who thinks that kids too need to understand certain rules, ideas and values. But more than them, I think the parents need a counselling regarding such issues.

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  37. Maybe it’s just me and those I know, but we’ve noticed the attitude of your neighbors is increasingly prevalent. The logic behind their complaints wasn’t that they wanted you to run their kids over. They weren’t even considering that! They were just being plain… what’s the word? … as kids, we called it “rebellious”. They wanted to do what they wanted to do, and to heck with those who stand in the way. As a result, those of us with common sense are the one’s being victimized because they end up suing us (and by “us”, that includes everything from grocery stores to industrial companies… everyone who does something that other people seem too incompetent to handle) for their negligence.
    Sorry your neighbors seem like that. You have my sympathy.

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    • Barbara Backer-Gray

      Well, thanks. But I also mentioned that after having slept on it, they apparently realized I had a point, because since then I haven’t seen as many kids all over the road.

      Like

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