Why I think kids grow up better within a village of people who care.
Photo Credit: Gus Ruballo on Unsplash
As I think back on the town I grew up in, I realize that it was, at least to my childhood memory, just about perfect.
It wasn’t just the location that made if perfect, it was the village of people who surrounded us.
We lived in a three bedroom mobile home trailer which inside was a rather tight space for our family of four, however the trailer was on its own piece of property in a neighborhood.
This meant we actually had a front yard, back yard and a huge side yard. It was just under an acre all together. My paternal grandparents lived directly behind us, so we had access to all of that space as well.
Our town and street
Our town was small back then, though I couldn’t tell you the exact population. I just know to me it felt like I knew almost everyone and if I didn’t, my parents or grandparents certainly did.
I knew every family on my street to be sure, all the way to the lake which was at the far end of our street. It seemed like it was farther than it is.
In reality, it’s only about five city blocks.
If I was hurt or in trouble anywhere on the street, I could safely go knock on the nearest door and ask for help. If I wrecked my bike, didn’t feel well, or even if it was something as simple as using the restroom.
Most kids in the neighborhood were on a first name basis with the family who owned the corner store and the gas station at the end of the street.
If it was your birthday, whatever you bought in the corner store that day would be “on the house”. Somehow the owner just knew it was your special day.
I can still give you the names of those families on our street. Most have moved away but some of them I’ve been in touch with in recent years.
Several of them were present at my grandparents’ funerals in the late 1990’s and a couple at my father’s funeral in 2011.
What we did for fun
When it rained really hard and fast in the summer, the big treat of the day was to put on a bathing suit and tromp and swim in the ditches on the side of the road.
I can hear today’s parents screaming, horrified at this thought.
In fact, as a parent today I would freak out if I saw children swimming in a ditch. The dangers from traffic, glass, trash, bacteria, etc are just astronomical.
But back then, we did it repeatedly almost every time it rained, until I was about twelve. And here I am at fifty years old today. Alive and well. I think I cut myself once in all those years.
It wasn’t just a different time back then, it truly was a completely different world.
We headed outside right after school during the week, unless we had homework which had to be done first. We’d play till we heard our parents call for us, then race home for dinner.
After dinner, we’d go back outside. The primary rule in good weather was “be home before it gets dark.” If the streetlights came on before we got home, we knew we were in trouble.
Saturday mornings there was an unwritten rule which kept us inside until after morning cartoons (about 11 am usually) but then we’d be off to meet up with friends. Unless we had chores to do which had to be done first.
But even with Saturday chores, it still gave us plenty of time to ride bikes, climb trees and whatever else our young minds could devise. Lunch would be at whoever’s house we were closest to when we got hungry.
Many times on weekends, our house was the place everyone headed for just before dark. They’d get permission first from a parent to stay out after dark.
Our games consisted of flashlight tag, ghost in the graveyard and hide and seek.
We walked everyone home in a group when it was time and kids would split off as we passed their house, leaving my sister and I to walk back together.
To say I was in a gang probably would be overdoing it, but our street had a core group of kids that were just about inseparable with a few others thrown in here and there.
Sometimes we’d be joined by an occasional younger sibling at the “request” of our parents. It typically wasn’t really a request but an unspoken demand.
We setup a kool-aid stand in our big side yard and cars would stop and buy some. No one thought anything of it then. We drank up a lot of the inventory too on hot days.
Several of us had pairs of tall stilts made from 2x2’s, and we’d hold a circus event or stilt races in the side yard. We held our own pet parades, and used sticks as light sabers to hold mock duels.
It really was a village
But what I remember most about the town where I grew up is that everyone knew everyone else. We had to behave most of the time because the whole neighborhood was full of eyes.
If a neighbor saw us doing something we shouldn’t be doing, they’d quickly come out, give us a lecture, and send us home.
By the time we got home, at least one parent would be waiting on the doorstep because “Mrs. Smith” called each house to let them know what had gone on.
We’d get another lecture and an appropriate punishment from our parents.
Maybe that’s why kids are in so much trouble today. And why parents are so stressed and live in fear for their kids.
Neighbors not only don’t know one another but they are actually afraid to get involved in any way even verbally. That protection I had back then, has disintegrated.
Keep this in mind if a parent or a neighbor approaches you about something your child did wrong. Try to think about the intent behind their actions.
Even if they didn’t handle the situation in the same way you might have, be appreciative that they cared enough about your child to step in.
Be grateful they took the time to notify you so you could be more aware of your child’s world.
When the community stands together in raising children, it can create a much more effective and nurturing environment for everyone.
Let’s get back to that world again. I know it can be done if enough people care.
What can be done today
In my neighborhood, I’m part of an online neighborhood watch group through a site called Nextdoor.com.
It’s nationwide, so you can check yourself to see if it’s active in your area. My local police department verified it’s legit.
If there isn’t a group in your area, you can start one. That’s what I did.
In just a couple of years, our group has grown to more than 200 families on over 30 streets in our neighborhood. In our township there are 12 other groups, in total about 700 families who participate.
It’s a great way to get to know neighbors and to share information on security and other neighborhood issues.
Everyone who joins has to be verified through one of four methods to ensure they actually live in the neighborhood they want to be part of online.
It works for busy schedules because there are no in person meetings, all communication is done online.
You can adjust your settings to share your email, your phone number, street address, etc with others or none of these until you are comfortable.
In our group we share recommendations for services such as plumbers, construction contractors and realtors.
Neighbors offer things for free or for sale and share news about lost or found pets. Local businesses post about sales or about any hiring needs they may have.
More families join every week. It’s not exactly the same as the good old days I remember, but it’s a start.
And it’s a sign that people do still care.