The Neighborhood Swing – Childhood Preserver, Crime Deterrent, Social Lubricant
These days we have neighborhood watch groups, organized resident patrols, citizen-requested police officers cruising our little secluded neighborhoods. Though I’m not exactly sure what all that costs us taxpayers or how much of a crime deterrent it really is, this I do know:
I have a better proposal. It involves a knotted rope and a tree branch right in public view. No, not a noose for public lynching. A children’s swing with a wooden or plastic seat.
You see, it used to be that we as a society ended our hardworking days by sitting outside on our front porches on a favorite chair or on the steps to wait out the hottest part of the evening. Folks would enjoy the company of neighbors as they strolled by, walked their dogs or just popped over unannounced to visit.
Then came air-conditioning, color television and with these, the favorite chair was brought inside and placed squarely in front of the TV. Windows went down when temperatures went up and in some cases so did the crime rates for such neighborhoods. People retreated away from the front of their houses -- where they could monitor what was going on just outside their door. With the windows shut and the crime rate up, in came the children too … for safety’s sake.
This year, we were gone for most of the summer from our neighborhood. Our usually quiet street filled with booming, vibrating construction of the house across the street. We did not miss the neighborhood while we were away. It had become of street of constant noise and chaos. We dodged large construction trucks, squeezed past delivery vans. And, as the school year came to a close, neighbors retreated into their homes and children escaped into their postage stamp-sized backyards or down to the local park – a self-induced hybernation during early summer to outlast the pounding, scraping, whirring, and dusty fury which seemed to be endless.
Upon our return, however, there was something fresh in the ‘hood. Not a new face but a mild hero nonetheless – The Swing. A family or perhaps two had hung it from one of the few accessible tree branches available on our short, two-block street. And since it is not technically on anyone’s property (it hangs over the sidewalk from a city-planted tree), everyone claims use of it.
You see, despite living in a town known as The City of Trees, it’s actually rare for the non-McMansion mortals among us here in heart of Silicon Valley to have climbable trees of such maturity on our property. So, we sometimes spill out into driveways, front yards and the planted areas between our sidewalks and curbed streets to play outdoors.
The Swing has transformed this little street practically overnight. It’ll start with one little girl who will casually go for a swing, then maybe take to drawing a chalk hopscotch. Soon her two next door neighbors join her. From across the street, a slightly older child now emerges, pulling a red wagon behind her. Three more, two doors down, just finished all their dinner. Their reward? Time at The Swing. There was even an impromptu lemonade stand yesterday. Seven girls ranging in ages from 6-10 worked on it together – without adult interference, um, I mean, supervision.
Are you absorbing the simplistic beauty of it? No prearranged play dates, pick ups or drop offs, no permission slips to sign, no emails or phone calls to reserve timeslots. Just wandering out the front door and down to The Swing. Yesterday, I had to take away The Swing just for the hour in response to my daughter’s temporary naughtiness. It was the perfect privilege to remove and it got results. Losing TV time didn’t make her blink. But The Swing, she wailed, don’t take away The Swing.
Now, The Swing is not without its watchful eyes: mommies who garden, stroll with babies, dads who powerwash their driveways and walk the dogs all keep their eye on things. What’s more, it has brought several of us out of our dinner-cooking, homework-supervising cocoons and we’ve found that we do have time to chat. We talk about healthcare, about the four different schools our collective children attend despite living on the same block, and make vague plans to have a BBQ or coffee next week. And, it was downright embarrassing to me that despite having enrolled my oldest daughter in her latest ballet class, it did not register with me that the teacher’s daughter, and thus the teacher lived in our neighborhood. They had moved in shortly before summer. It took The Swing for us to discover that. We had a good laugh about it. The girls are planning a sleepover now.
Even older children who hang out front but due to the coolness cutoff date (it seems to be 7th grade by the way) watch wistfully while the younger children wreak havoc on the knotted rope but don’t dare approach it. Except once, on a Tuesday evening, when she thought no one was watching, earbuds in, iPod blasting, twirling and swirling, eyes closed. Just for a moment that 14-year-old was checking in with her childhood, so I walked the dog in the other direction to preserve her peace just a little bit more.
Now some Midwestern mom will probably laugh out loud at my
declared acknowledgement and say, “Heck, that’s nothing new” as she kicks back
on her porch swing and pours another glass of lemonade. I raise my glass of
Southern-heritage sweet iced tea right back at her. But one needs to understand
that the rules, or at least the way we play here, have been very different. My children
can’t just jump on their bicycles and be gone for the afternoon until they hear
me calling them for supper. But
they can go to The Swing, and maybe I’ll
Pamela W. has been on a summerlong, self-induced hiatus. This is an original post to Silicon Valley Moms Blog to which she regularly contributes.