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.