Remember when you were growing up, how there was that one house on the street that all the neighborhood kids gravitated to? Maybe the house had a pool, or a pool table, or a basketball hoop. Maybe the parents were more lenient than yours or the garage housed a fridge full of soda. Whatever the reason, the neighborhood house offered everything yours didn’t — and it was good.
When we moved into our little neighborhood seven years ago, my husband and I didn’t know the kid score. We weren’t sure whether our boys would have neighborhood kids to play with. We didn’t know if they’d make a best friend across the street or one day swoon over the girl next door. We thought the neighborhood would be a great place to raise our young family. Apparently, so did everybody else because there were kids — lots of kids. Babies were being born faster than middle schoolers were losing interest in playing outside. Strollers, scooters, and skateboards populated our sidewalks, chalk masterpieces decorated our collective driveways, and kids of all ages and cross streets gathered together to play games, have fun, and hurt themselves — all at our house. Gulp.
We never set out to become the neighborhood house. We didn’t have a pool, a pool table, or even a basketball hoop. What we did have were very strict rules about where our youngest son BooBoo could play. We decided that he could play in our yard — not the neighbor’s yard three doors up or the neighbor’s garage four doors down — our yard. He could scoot his scooter on our driveway, play ball in our yard, and play darts in our garage. We didn’t do it for helicopter reasons; we did it because we knew him.
As a spirited ball of explosive energy, BooBoo has a tendency to get overly excited, play too hard, and regularly push the limits of personal and property safety. If our wild child was going to hurt himself playing, I wanted it to happen at our house. If he was going to accidentally destroy something, I wanted it to be ours. And while it seemed the outside play rules would work out just fine, there was one small thing that we failed to consider: he was a truly magnetic small person. Easily attracting friends, neighborhood pets, and kids he just met one time, BooBoo’s crazy and amazing knack for people led him to become the unofficial ruler of the under-13 crowd.
“Let’s play Operation!” he’ll shout, and kids will come running from far and wide. “Now let’s play dinosaurs and aliens!” he’ll exclaim as he pulls out a box of torn Halloween costumes and miscellaneous props. As the consummate host and commander-in-chief of laughter, imagination, and general wackiness, BooBoo managed to turn our house into The House.
Of course, there’s also a garage fridge stocked with Capri Suns, so that might be part of it too … and the Costco-sized snacks. Oh, and rolls of butcher paper and paints for murals, bubbles, water balloons, hula hoops, sidewalk chalk, a comprehensive Nerf arsenal, and the aforementioned dart board. While I suspect the neighborhood kids possess a lot of these things and more, what they don’t have is BooBoo, the apparent life of the neighborhood party.
When it comes to assuming the role of the “neighborhood house,” there are as many good things as there are bad. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons:
Pro: I always know where my kids are
There’s a difference between knowing where your kids are supposed to be, and if they stayed there. Is my kid really at Daniel’s house or did he sneak around the corner for a peek at that creepy neighbor’s one-eyed pit bull that (allegedly) ate Daniel’s guinea pig? And it’s not only knowing where my kids are, it’s knowing what they’re doing. Are they playing nice? Are the playing safe?
Con: Dude, where’s my snacks?
I don’t keep snacks in the garage because eww, I keep them in the pantry where they belong. Because our garage door leads directly into the kitchen, BooBoo’s always in and out fetching snacks for the hungry neighborhood masses. That club-sized box of Cheez-Its? Yeah, that lasted a Saturday. That jumbo box of Otter Pops? That lasted all of Tuesday and Wednesday.
Pro: My kids enjoy playing at home
My kids quite enjoy playing at home and why wouldn’t they? Their stuff is there, their friends (always) are there, and snacks are there, while supplies last.
Con: Everyone else’s kids enjoy playing at my house
I love kids, even other people’s kids, but when you work from home like I do, it means you’re working a lot of weekend and late afternoon hours – the very same hours that kids of the same zip code are laughing/yelling/singing/arguing at my house. Come one, come all, bring your pets and your parents to my house where there’s a block party every single day and the fun never seems to end!
Pro: The interior of my house stays clean
We live in California where the weather is so good so much of the time that I’m always shoving my kids outside. Not only is the Vitamin D, exercise, and lack of screen time good for them, it keeps the inside of my house cleaner longer.
Con: The exterior of my house resembles frat party aftermath
My husband’s beloved garage and beautiful exterior landscaping is in a constant state of “What the hell happened here?”
Pro: My kids are less likely to get hurt
My kids know about the loose brick on the dividing wall, that sharp edge of the fence, and the buckled concrete slap just ripe for tripping. Knowing their space as well as they do, they’re better able to protect themselves from injury at home.
Con: Other people’s kids are more likely to get hurt
The neighborhood kids don’t know about the loose brick, sharp edge, or buckled concrete. They don’t know what’s off-limits in the garage or the fact that I hope and pray that I’ll never have to file a claim for personal injury on my property.
Pro: I don’t have to stop what I’m doing to supervise every moment of my child’s play
So long as my 6 and 11-year-old kids play together in the front yard, I feel reasonably comfortable providing minimal supervision. If I can see and hear them, I know they’re safe.
Con: Neighborhood parents think I’m watching their kids
If I’ve told the neighborhood parents once, I’ve told the neighborhood parents six dozen times, I don’t have the time, energy, or first-aid training to supervise masses of children in addition to my own. Parents, bring a folding chair and hang out in my shady garage (there are snacks and Capri Suns!) to supervise your kids. My kids are my responsibility and your kids are yours.
Is your house the”neighborhood house”?
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