Go Play! Where?

I grew up in the hilltowns of the Berkshires in Western MA in the 70’s. My sister and I had to stay within hearing distance of Mom’s whistle, and let her know where we were going before we left the house – but that was pretty much the only rule. I took 5 mile walks with friends down to the reservoir to fly kites off the spillway, rode bikes down into the next town just to test out the brakes. Built forts, climbed trees, picked berries, went swimming – and got really scratched up, bug bit, and dirty in the summer. If one of us got hurt, someone was appointed to go for help – and did. Fortunately that didn’t happen very often. There was really no such thing as adult supervision or play dates. There wasn’t thought to be a real need for it. You called up your friends and met up, period. Adults had little to do with it. Oh, you could run to the neighbors for a glass of water or a bandaid if your folks weren’t available. That was the extent of the check in. You could even leave your doors unlocked at night if you felt like it. The world is a different place today. Very very different.

Today I will admit to being an overprotective parent. My mother lives 2 houses down the street from me and I make my girls call me when they get there. (Obv the 19 yr old I don’t do that with anymore – but I do insist she let me know where she is and who she’s with) Once they’re out of my sight, I worry. Not a lot – I’m not paranoid by any means. But its there, lurking in the shadows. That “what if” worry every parent worth their salt experiences.

Other than my folks and our neighbor in between, I really don’t know my neighbors. Thats a complete 180 from my day. Now, Everyone works, everyone’s busy and there’s very little time to socialize. I don’t live in the ‘hood by any means. Its a blue collar neighborhood. We’ve lived here since 96 – a quarter mile from what used to be a nice playground back before we moved here (so I’ve been told). The homeless have a summer camp site just the other side of the dike from it, have since forever. Are they harmless ? probably – but you never know. I’ve seen more than one of them doing the thorazine shuffle on the walkway behind the house on their way back and forth. An uncomfortable sight when your then 4 and 10 year olds are swinging on the playscape 20 yards away – compassion for the mentally ill notwithstanding.

If you check in any neighborhood I’d bet that there’s a registered sex offender living within a half mile of any given address. That’s not a pleasant thought for anyone, parent or not. So when they were littler I made my girls stay in our fenced in yard. With the dogs. I was the koolaid mom. And you bet your ass I was outside with them.

So where did they/do they play? Backyards of friends, and our backyard. Where else do we as parents allow them to play when the public playgrounds aren’t safe? That’s tricky. Im not talking about keeping our kids from the usual bumps and scratches that come with childhood, those things will happen. I’m referring to letting our kids be free to do those things in a place they won’t be exposed to crime, drugs or violence. Its our job to make sure they’re protected. Letting our kids be kids safely takes some serious planning these days. Keep them busy with activities like dance, gymnastics, music lessons, soccer, little league etc. And it’s supervised. Or, let them veg out in front of the tube, playing video games or watching cartoons. That’s easy, and safer… But it’s not better for them. I miss the 70’s. I need to have a long talk with my mom. Did she worry then like I do now? I don’t know.

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Photos courtesy of: Ian Pouliot. Nemesis Photo

So where are some of those safe places? Organizations like the YMCA and Boys & Girls Clubs provide wonderful opportunities for kids to be involved in structured activities; and also just PLAY. Kaboom is a very cool organization that I had the opportunity to work with when I was on the Board at our local Boys and Girls Club. They came and helped us build an awesome playground for our Club kids, and reminded us grown ups that taking time to play has immeasurable value. I read an article today on their website about encouraging kids to take risks during play and how our society has shifted in terms of how we view what is safe and not safe. It got me thinking, and writing. Here’ s the link to the article: http://kaboom.org/blog/encouraging_risk_risk_averse_world?utm_source=020712&utm_medium=email&utm_content=featlnk&utm_campaign=eblast If you click on the link I highly recommend you surf around their website awhile. So, what are your thoughts about safety and promoting healthy recreation? How do you balance things? Do you encourage outdoor activities, and if so where? What’s your criteria for a safe play environment? I’d love to hear.

Photo by: Ian Pouliot. Nemesis Photo


4 thoughts on “Go Play! Where?

  1. Family/neighbor involvement is the key. I learned from my aunt to just walk up to anyone whom I don’t know and introduce myself and ask who he or she is. Usually if the person is questionable, you will figure this out by a little interaction, and he or she will move on because he or she realizes that he or she is being watched. I’ve been named the “Sheriff of Short Mountain” for my aggressive friendliness. If you want a hilarious take on what is hidden in small towns, find the B-movie “Hot Fuzz”. It is a British spoof on the Hollywood buddy-cop movies set in a village in England.

    • Sounds good I will check it out for sure! I know what you mean about the questionable ones. We have a walkway on top of the dike behind our house, and two friendly dogs. People will stop outside the fence to say hello to them (and bring their dogs too if they have them) However, one morning this guy opens my gate and walks into my yard as my 7 year old is swinging on the swings. I was standing on my deck and Yelled at him. He turned out to be a decent guy but was MORTIFIED at his lack of judgment. He’d stopped at the fence several times to greet our dogs and just didn’t think….

  2. It’s a scary world. As the mother of 3 girls that are ages 12, 9 and 6, I don’t take any chances. Period. Any and all outdoor play is supervised in a group organized sport or by parents. I grew up being able to play outside as you described. It’s unfortunate that the world is a scary place these days, but we have to protect our kids. Between frequent kidnappings and lurking pedophiles, there is no margin for error in my book. Cynical? Maybe…..but it’s what I feel I have to do to protect my girls in this crazy world. The consequences of not doing so are catastrophic. Thanks for bringing to light and writing about this issue.


    • I’m so glad you commented and I completely agree. I really do want to sit down and chat with my mom soon. She was pretty laid back when I was a kid but nowadays she’s the neighborhood crime watch (since she retired) and she’s fearful. Part of that may just be that she’s getting up there in age. I don’t want to be fearful – I want to continue being practical and cautious and teaching the girls to do the same. It seems to be working because they do listen to the “uh oh” feeling and react accordingly. That did in fact save my older girl one afternoon about 7 years ago. (long story ) She’s got great intuition and can read people better than a book. I wish I could allow my kids the joy of exploring the world the way I did but I can’t. Sadly, no one can anymore – thats not cynicism its just reality. and that’s why safe play places are so important. Thanks again! Donna

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