Is this a dream?

So we’ve arrived at our new place.  In a word – unbelievable.

We’ve had the keys to our new house for less than a week, and I’m already having bad dreams about having to move away from here.  “Here” is a neighborhood aboard West Point, NY. It is a quiet, quarter-mile loop, with a playground in the center.  Just seconds ago, I loaded up one of our neighborhood five-year-olds with a handful of popsicles, so he could deliver them to a group of kids now playing somewhere in the woods, or on the sloping rock formation in our backyard, or in someone else’s yard.  I don’t really  know where they are at this moment, but my two kids (6 and 5) are among them…and they don’t have any grown-ups with them. The popsicles will find their way, I’m sure.  Just as the kids will find their way home.   As I write these words, in fact, the gang just piled through my sliding glass door; six total, all sucking on popsicles.  Ages four-and-a-half to eight; three sets of brothers and sisters.  I haven’t seen any of their parents since yesterday, and don’t plan on seeing them today.  Just the kids.  They are simply Free-ranging, as if we’ve somehow been beamed back to the 70’s.  They’re moving through the neighborhood (and my kitchen) like a pack of happy wolves, and it’s truly inspiring.  In the last 24 hours, I have dispensed grapes, apples, oranges, crackers, juice boxes, yogurt, bananas, mango, granola bars, and some stuff I’m forgetting.  I’ve also applied neosporine and band aids to several kids who are not my own.  No big deals, no freak-shows. It’s simply amazing.    There is another pack of slightly older boys, 10-12 year-olds, who seemingly occupy the top of the neighborhood food chain.  They are the “big kids”, and they are the only ones who can perform backwards flips off the swings, and land on their feet.  I don’t see their parents much either.  My 6-year-old has tried the flip, but he keeps landing on something other than his feet.

My children have never seemed happier than they are right now; I’m not kidding.  In the space of a week, they have been transported from a land of deserted neighborhoods and hit-and-miss play dates, to a land of autonomous adventure, parent-free games, and kids awake after dark chasing fireflies (also with no parents).   I’ll freely admit that I’ve shed a few tears of joy over the entire thing. We have arrived.

Time warp forward an hour – I just wrapped up a hot dog and watermelon buffet for six, and the pack is off again.  🙂  This is just amazing.

So, the implications are HUGE here.  My wife has a one-year contract as a professor at West Point…how can we extend?  How can we stay here?  There must be a way.   Our initial plan was to return to Michigan after a year.  That was before we discovered this.   The thought of returning to empty neighborhoods makes me shudder.  I’ll try to post regularly with updates.

Go love your kids!




Kids in the ‘hood…or probably not

To camp we go; also to dance, to travel teams, to the park, to anywhere but our own neighborhoods, it seems.   I recently rode my bike around our neighborhood on a gorgeous Summer day, and I couldn’t help but conjure up the idea of a ghost town.  No kids, no bikes, no ball-games, no sounds.  Nothing. It literally looked like an abandoned movie set, albeit with gorgeous landscaping.  In my mind, there is something tragically wrong with this picture.  My kids see it too.  Shocker, I know.

As I write this, my family is five days away from a household move to New York.  We already have a house waiting, that we’ve never seen, in a neighborhood we’ve never visited.  Typical military housing scenario, for those who aren’t in the know.  Anyway, I was lying in bed last night, at zero-dark-thirty, trying to imagine that it will be different there; better there.  Perhaps the “security” of a military base will have some sway on the plague of child-safety paranoia that we’re up against.  Maybe a military-patrolled neighborhood will qualify as safe enough to let kids play outside unsupervised.  Then, it struck me; that’s just a small part of the problem.  The real issue is that kids’ lives have been completely uprooted from the  idea of the neighborhood, and transplanted into camps, gyms, parks, and long rides to the “game”, wherever it happens to be.  So, even if we have armed guards at every corner, parents will continue to drive by, give a friendly wave, and proceed to the nearest weekend-killing event to sip coffee on the sidelines, and gossip about which “activities” they’re signing their children up for next year.  Neighborhoods, I fear, may be dead, folks.  I know, this is not surprising to anyone who would be reading this blog, and it has been written a few thousand times already, but it just seemed particularly disturbing at 0330 this morning.

So, how do we fix this?  Wow, tough one.  I do know that it’s certainly not going to fix itself.  Once I am back “among my people” on base (or, on “post” now, since it’s an Army thing), I will take stock of what’s going on there, and see if I can muster some ideas, confidence, and momentum.  As  Stephen Mallory might say,  we’re facing a big, drooling beast here.  (A little Fountainhead for ya… 🙂

Go love your kids!