Lately, I have been reading a lot of blogs / posts / articles / conjecture about the status of ‘neighborhoods’ and basically, what boils down to the lack of kids playing outside willy-nilly in said neighborhoods all summer long, from dawn until dusk. (Ok, I am exaggerating a bit, but you get the point.)
I’m assuming this is due to the recent start of summer break, and savvy Content Managers effectively managing their editorial calendars to focus on contextual topics instead of just letting writing happen as people are moved. For me, sometimes…this feels like a concerted, collective stirring of pots that whips up disingenuous dialogue around forced topics. We have this…Instead of letting writing be. Instead of letting writers write about topics whenever the mood strikes whether it falls into a perfectly planned calendar designed to optimize mega-outlets’ internet ratings/rankings or not. (I smell another blog here: Where have all the journalists gone? Haha! And listen, I DO get it – I am a professional communicator, so know how these things work and why. But really. The forced at-odds parenting perspective and resulting dialogue is EXHAUSTING. Yet, here I am…chiming in. Sometimes I can’t ignore things. Like this topic.)
As a gal who grew up in what I’d consider the heyday of neighborhood fun in the city of Philadelphia where the middle class ruled and row homes with shared alleyways were the bomb, I’d be lying if I haven’t also wondered this from time-to-time. (And yes, I am clearly naturally nostalgic like any almost 40-year-old would be, but honestly, after years of city and then suburban living, I am not sure anything quite compares to a close, tight-knit group of neighbors in a row home community – specific city aside. My experience just happens to be reflective of the City that Loves You Back, Philadelphia. Mayfair – holla at your girl! Haha. Oh my. Almost 40 is almost certainly too old for THAT?!)
However, for some reason, when I read these pieces decrying the loss of our children playing in maybe city, but almost certainly rural or suburban community streets, I have a reaction. Sometimes negative, sometimes ‘Go on, girl!’, sometimes middle of the road to the point where I sometimes get unexpectedly filled with rage if I think about it too long, because – yet again – I’ve succumbed to clickbait vs. an actual well-written piece that I may or may not agree with, but that provokes real, honest thinking and perspective seeking. (To me, clickbait is basically sub-par writing all gussied up with fancy social media marketing ploys like pretty, easily Pinterested pics or lists or slide shows that somehow my web browser feels I would like. Or, at the very least, for which my web browser has successfully pegged me for a sucker who will click. All in an effort to drive advertising revenue on the back end. I guess I can look at this through a positive lens in that I am supporting small businesses with each click through? Ha.)
After recently reading more articles about the “disappearing kids in neighborhoods” or the need to “let kids have a summer” than I care to count (we can address my compulsive need to click through vs. ignore some other time), I am left with this: I feel the double-income with kids population perspective is sorely missing from these pieces. These articles are instead constructed to idealize summer, and, generally, don’t reflect today’s frequent reality where both parents may need to work to provide good opportunities for their children, and subsequently require child care in the summer. Now, I fully admit, I am not the Queen of the Internet, so I’ve not read all the things – so if there are pieces that counter why kids aren’t just hanging out in the cul-de-sac all summer riding bikes, blowing bubbles and scooting on scooters, then please share links in the comments. I am a gal who likes to consider all available information before forming a final opinion. But right now, I just have a lot of ‘there are no kids playing in the streets from dawn to dusk any more’ whinging to work with. And it’s making me a little cranky.
On that note, let’s go back to my double-income with kids point of view. Would I love to have a “simple summer” with my not “overly-scheduled” kids home every day, riding bikes and slurping popsicles in the carefree way that only kids can consistently encapsulate and put back out there? Well, if I were Norman Rockwell, sure. That sounds swell. If I am myself, Bridget Clark, overworked mom of two whose inner Martha Stewart won’t let her screw up just one dinner without heavy guilt, then, no, actually. Having my kids home all summer would almost certainly amount to my kids riding bikes in the cul-de-sac for 20 minutes before coming in and whining for a popsicle before proclaiming how bored they are on the very second day of summer break, and within an hour of waking. (And, btw, the days are longer because…it’s summer!) This means I then become the Director, Elementary School Summer Entertainment, who, because inner Martha will not simmer, needs to pull together endless streams of activities and crafts and so on, which, on the surface may sound pretty awesome, but, in reality, is actually hard to maintain for the long haul. (Admit it: the Spirograph is fun on Monday for an hour, but come Tuesday, it’s so passé. I can’t keep up 11 straight weeks of entertaining kids from dawn until dusk. It’s unrealistic. For me … but probably not for all moms. I am sure there are moms out there who can hack it. I cannot. Really though, let’s just cue Staples’ “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” commercial. This was created for a reason. Really.) Besides that actual reality, I need child care for the summer. And, honestly, I know a lot of kick-ass, full-time parents who also choose to send their kids to camp for a week or two or three during the summer. Why? Because kids like variety. And perhaps, just maybe, parents need a break from being Director, Elementary School Summer Entertainment. And, really, who defined “summer” as staying home with a parent for 11 straight weeks anyway?
These articles inspire me to have fun inner dialogue with myself along these lines:
Should I feel guilty my kids can’t stay home with me or Kenny all summer and do as they please?
Perhaps. And sometimes (a lot of times), I do. Very much so. I do fall for the romanticized view of summer break at times. The one I recall I had as a child, where I rode my Big Wheel endlessly up and down the shared alley or turned it over to use the pedals as an imaginary ice cream maker, before spending my early evenings playing Kick the Can or Manhunt with all of the kids on the street. My actual reality, however, was: Sure, this happened. But it wasn’t every day. Because my mom worked. And her friends worked. And they traded days taking us to the swim club for swim team practice and general lounging around the pool and playing. Don’t be fooled. Now that I’m a mom, I am wise to their ways: this also benefitted them as us kids a) got plenty of exercise and sunshine and socialization (and this! before socialization was a thing parents worried about! #trendsettermomsinthe80s) and b) gave us an outlet where we would essentially leave them alone save for handing us a dollar to get a treat or two from the snack bar. And in the off-days and early years before the swim club, our moms stuck a hose in the plastic pool out back and sent us along to swim in that knee-deep freezing cold water while they sat on the sidelines and turned magazine pages before making family dinner. Real life. Unpinterested. And I can still picture and savor those summer days from long ago. Imagine that.
I’d really just appreciate a balanced and realistic view of summer (i.e. there will be very lazy days of summer (read – bored to tears) and that some kids actually do have to leave the neighborhood for child care. That’s all. Not much to ask, right? Apparently, it is.
Does sending them to camp mean we love them any less?
Of course NOT. It simply means we are making the choices our family needs to give ourselves and our children the opportunities we desire in life. The end. Nothing deeper here.
Should I feel thankful that we both have opportunities to use our college degrees that we worked so hard for years ago and currently afford us decent income?
Sure. And we are thankful that. Most days. Some days, I struggle. I’d be lying if I said that working full-time is fulfilling every one of my dreams. I can’t ever seem to find a perfect balance where I am happy with how many hours I have for work vs. family, etc. More often than not, however, I am thankful for my drive and like using my “talents” in a formal work setting. And honestly, I want to be successful…however I personally define that on a day-by-day basis. This seems to be the struggle of the modern woman – working or not – always cognizant of some crazy pressure that makes us feel like we aren’t measuring up in some way or another. (And to that, I say, let’s put on blinders and grab another glass of wine. Together.) It’s a farce. Everything’s fine. You’re fine. I’m fine. We are all fine. And our kids will be, too. Yes, even if they have to go to summer day camps.
What I can’t wrap my head around is the notion out there that my kids are “missing from the neighborhood”, as so many of these articles admonish. Yep. It’s true. Gavin and Grace aren’t really around that much during the summer. But it’s not because we don’t want them to be. It’s so that they CAN be around at other times during the year. Without a double income, it’s likely that we’d have to make different choices for our family that would, in theory, also require them to be ‘missing from the neighborhood’, because we wouldn’t be living here. And besides, it’s OK that Kenny and I would both like to have successful careers in addition to raising a family. This requires us to forego a traditional summer as it’s being idealized. And that’s OK, too.
My point is this: stop writing articles to get internet famous, more clicks, more self-promotion. Go back to the craft. Focus on presenting a perspective that resonates and reflects all sides. Take some time to think beyond your personal situation of ‘missing all the kids on bikes in the neighborhood’ and thinking about WHY that may be. Maybe both parents have to work, and that’s a necessity. Maybe both parents WANT to work. Include those perspectives. Take a holistic view. Give people something real and substantial to consider. Better yet, maybe consider the times when all the kids ARE available to ride bikes in the neighborhood and write about that. Maybe take a few minutes and consider that little Jimmy isn’t around to do summer as summer was done in 1985, because, well, in order to give him a leg up on the experience previous generations in his family have had, little Jimmy’s parents both work full-time, and therefore, weeks of summer day camps become a necessity. Or, perhaps, his parents decided the best thing they can do is role model a solid work ethic and they both have a career. So, maybe it’s better to focus on the time you DO have with him when he’s in the neighborhood and available to play.
Obviously, this current trend of spotlighting the “missing kids of summer” hit a nerve with me. It’s rare that I post something this pointed – haha! Basically, all I am saying is that there are two (or more!) sides to every story, so be considerate. Think before proselytizing. And maybe, reach out to the parent of the kids who aren’t having a “simple, carefree summer” at home and set up a play date on the weekends. Where their parents can also sit with other adults, relax and unwind…while watching their camp-ridden kids have fun enjoying…summer. As it’s idealized.