I can’t wait for school to start. Not for us – I’m not ready yet – but for them, the neighborhood kids.
We’re operating on vacation time here, still. Bill starts orientation next week, but this week all he had to do is pick up his school books. And he did. He was gone about 15 minutes this morning. Checked the block, and he’s done for the week. It’s a rough existence, I tell you.
School – for him, for the public schools, and for us – begins the week after next. In the meantime, I have this dreamy idea of what suburban, vacation living should be like: We get up whenever. Eventually, we get dressed. The kids go outside to play. They join other kids in the big communal area past our yard. They come home for Kool-Aid and crackers and grapes and apple slices. They take a break for lunch, then repeat until dinner time.
On Saturday morning around 830 am, Fritz went into the backyard by himself. Almost immediately, he was joined by our 7 year old neighbor. This would have been fine, except I was still in my pajamas, hadn’t eaten breakfast, and now suddenly everybody wants to go out and play even though nobody is dressed and nobody has eaten breakfast. Thus ended my leisurely morning.
On Sunday, we were barely in the door from Mass when the doorbell started ringing with kids asking if the boys could come out. And I’m not sure when some of these kids actually eat lunch or dinner, since no matter what time we do, there is always someone who comes calling then. In fact, today, around noon, a little boy would have actually walked in through my kitchen door if I hadn’t locked it to keep Peter in. I knew he was there only because the dog grunted in that general direction and I bothered to check. I really can’t have strange kids just walking in this house: the territorial dog is one concern, and just my own privacy and sense of personal space is another.
Last week, Bill laid down the law: no more going out to play after dinner time. Bedtime was getting more and more hectic and happening at a later and later hour. This wouldn’t be such a big deal for my older ones, but my little ones really need their sleep. Bedtime prayers are a family event. The older ones may stay up past them, but I can’t have them running around the neighborhood until 9 pm.
This past weekend, I insisted that the children begin coming in for one full hour for lunch. Otherwise, the meal was more of a snack on the run. We’d find half eaten sandwiches and half drunk glasses of water and milk on the table as my children dash back out in favor of the next game or playmate. My kids can run on fumes all day long, but I can’t allow that (although I wish I could emulate it).
I’ve also had to insist that of all the hours in the day left for playing with friends (they have seven hours of free time between breakfast and lunch and lunch and dinner) that only three of them in total may be spent inside someone else’s house. On hot afternoons, I really don’t mind if the kids retreat indoors. However, at two of the three houses where they are permitted inside, the main form of entertainment is video games. They just don’t need to fill those seven hours with that.
Besides, I don’t necessarily want to host other children all day long every day, and I assume other moms feel the same way. There’s a politeness factor here: how long do you hang out when paying a social call, especially when it’s someone you see all the time? I know this concept is lost on children…and I suspect it may be lost on many adults, too. Yes, having other children over generally keeps your own children occupied allowing you to actually get some work done. It’s great…until the children decide to exclude the two year old, who lets everyone know just exactly how displeased he is with that. Or until it hits those too-late-for-snack-too-early-for-dinner times, and they start clamoring for food. Or until your children decide this is a good opportunity to test your parenting tenacity and begin hounding you for every single off-limit or special treat activity they can imagine or, worse yet, flat-out ignore your reminders of house rules.
Another point of courtesy: I don’t want my kids ringing doorbells, in general. I figure if the neighbors want to play outside, they’ll play outside, and I tell my kids to go out there and see who shows up. Maybe they are inside because they have chores, or family time or their mother is still in her pajamas and hasn’t eaten breakfast yet. Or maybe they are inside because their mother won’t let them knock on other people’s doors, and they haven’t overcome morning inertia and gone outside themselves yet.
Or maybe I’m just a grumpy, anti-social type who really needs to settle down in rural America where the nearest neighbor is at least a half-mile away. Then it wouldn’t matter when school started for the local kids; we’d never have a ringing doorbell…and my kids would moan about being bored, and that would be just awful, right? Hmmm…I think the Army needs to figure out a way to have everyone telecommute…let’s not go to war, but say we did, huh? Works for me.
So, what about you? Do you have kids constantly coming to your door, waking the baby from his nap? Do your kids roam the neighborhood freely for hours on end coming home only for meals? Are they hanging out at friends’ houses indulging in banned activities like all-day TV and video games? How do you squeeze in family time and family meals in an environment where nobody else seems to be doing that? Is seven hours of free time sufficient or is it obscene? Should I just forgo all playtime with the neighbors and put my kids to work as productive members of my domestic society?