Suburban living

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?

10 thoughts on “Suburban living

  1. Well, surely you have read about our little friend Adventure Boy. He roams from morning till night. I have no idea about when or if meals are given at home.As far as other kids, we have 2 who call for Little Brother, and he wants to call for them as well.Maybe you can adopt the “stop sign” thing like I have on my door (to show Adventure Boy when it’s a good time to play.) It’s a 2-sided traffic light. On one side the red light is colored brightly and in the other 2 lights it says “PLAY LATER.” On the other side, the green light is bright and it says “FRIENDS WELCOME.” This way it works for non-readers and readers. I can turn a child away at the door when I say “We will put on the green light when it’s playtime.”

  2. That’s a good idea, Barb. I did finally reprint my “Shhh…baby’s sleeping. Please knock quietly” sign and used it yesterday. But the traffic light sign is pretty clear and would work well for lunch and dinner.

  3. i’m going to counter your questions with another question: when is a child old enough to wander about unsupervised? we have a set of five year old twins that live about a dozen houses down from us that have repeatedly come up to us, “can we come inside?” i think they’re just too young to be wandering around the neighborhood. i gave them quite a lecture about “never go in a stranger’s house!” the first time they asked but now they know my name so they don’t think i’m a stranger anymore. i’ve never met their parents though i’ve seen dad outside talking with our neighbor once.

  4. Michelle — wish we were neighbors since we think exactly alike. The “Please do not ring the bell” sign was going to be my first suggestion. Good for you. The second suggestion is the kitchen timer. When a friend comes over, you set the time for, say, 45 minutes. You announce to the friend and your children — “this is how long you guys have to play indoors.” You don’t have to justify it with anything other than “because I said so.” I also suggest posting house rules. Your kids know them, but make the sign the bad guy when friends come over — “see that’s against house rules.” Other kids will get it really quick. Unfortunately no on else parents exactly like you, and kids adopt other kids’ behaviors quicker than lightening. And since you’re new to your neighbors you never know what their family situation is. We used to have a little guy in our house all the time and I finally figured out it was because his mother sent him over and told him when he was allowed to come back. Yea, right!The silver lining on your situation is that your kids have some playmates (I know, sometimes too much of a good thing). And if they are at your house, you know they are safe. I always preferred they play at my house because I didn’t trust anyone else.

  5. Jenny seems to think she’s old enough to wander unfettered through the area. I’ve told my kids that I need to know exactly where they are at all times as a matter of safety (for them) and emergency (for us). State laws vary…here in Kansas a 9 year old is expected to be under direct supervision of an adult or suitable babysitter. In Virginia it was age 8 and under for direct supervision. The Military Police define that pretty narrowly. In Virginia, a neighbor’s kid was playing in the backyard when he decided to go into the bordering woods (she was in the house). he was 5. he got lost. He went to a house and the lady there called the MPs to bring him home. The mom was put on warning…even though she was already searching franctically for him and was aware of his absense within minutes, she left him “unsupervised.”I can’t imagine not being concerned about the whereabouts of my 5 year old. But that “stranger” thing…my kids at that age used to think the UPS driver was NOT a stranger because they knew him on sight. I really like the Stranger Danger video “On the Safe Side” which talks about “Safe Side Adults,” “Kinda Knows,” and “Don’t Knows.” Helps kids understand that someone you “kinda know” is not a “safe” adult.

  6. My biggest irritant is when other kids come ringing the doorbell and calling at 8:30 or 9pm. I am trying to get people bathed and in bed (especially the baby and toddler), yet fellow 6 year olds are coming calling. I have even casually mentioned to a mom of one of the kids who responded “Oh, just tell her that they cannot play.” followed by a “Yours go to bed that early in the summer?”. And so they still call that late about once a week. I have a feeling that kids that young would ignore any signs posted. Couldn’t I just program the doorbell where it would be “silent” after a certain time?

  7. Our neighborhood does the calling thing, I think that outdoor play for my boy is perfect – and what summer is about. I hear you about the bedtime.

  8. Since you asked….I love the traffic light idea – where was that when I needed it?!The timer idea is another good one. So is the suggestion for posting the House Rules.Limiting time inside other peoples’ houses is about the only defense against video games, etc. This can be especially helpful for the too-late-to-snack-and-too-early-for-dinner problem – if your kids can’t be inside others’ houses at a certain time of day.The following suggestions are for when you are at the end of your rope and you feel that no one is “getting it”.For wandering souls (yours): if grounding doesn’t work & if you think this a really serious offense – on the level with running into the street say – then a spanking can deliver the message that THEY HAVE GONE TOO FAR (in rule-breaking) and are getting the worst punishment possible. Since you seldom, if ever, spank, the message is even stronger. Our kids were confined to the immediate neighborhood until Junior High (except for paper routes) – and were forbidden to go to certain peoples’ homes where discipline was lacking (ask Bill about Bobby Carman).If all else fails with the neighborhood young’uns, and it will for some, announce to all & sundry parents (if you can find them)that lunch is an hour long and visiting/phone time in the evening is over at *PM (no explanation is needed, but you can always say that it is family prayer time – if they don’t feel guilty for not doing the same thing, at least they will respect the reason). You can add that if your children are not outside, it means that they are not available to play.It will take a little while, but a direct approach also works with the children: “It is our lunchtime right now and the kids will come outside when we are finished.”, “When you see the red traffic light/sleeping baby sign, DO NOT RING THE DOORBELL.”(I put it in capitals because some children don’t understand until extra firmness is used.) For the phone, you can tell the child that yours will call back after lunch/tomorrow or that when he/she sees the kids outside, they can play. This will wear them down if they can’t get through to your child. For *PM, when playtime is over, the traffic light might be your best bet. An adult answering the door & telling them to go home helps, too. It’s too early for the last one: turn out the outside lights when *PM arrives.Be comfortable with the fact that you have set up rules – everyone needs them. You will find many people don’t and you will have minimal contact with them because you have nothing in common.Take heart – the neighborhood will catch on that certain families have rules that do not get broken and a measure of peace will descend.Mom R.

  9. Oh for goodness sake Michelle-weren’t you ever a kid? Let them run free before they have to wear neckties and bras! We have the doorbell ringing nonstop around here. Lunch is alaways eaten on the back patio with all neighborhood kids and my son probably pee’s in the back woods instead of stepping foot in the house for fear I will think of a chore for him to do like brush his teeth! It is SUMMER! Summer for a homeschool kid is like heaven. I begin to look forward to the neighborhood kids going back to school because it is only then that we get a little relief from other children. I do have the “no indoor play” rule. I don’t want neighborhood kids in my house so I don’t allow my kids in other people’s houses… it is just a thing with me. My kids are out and on the go from sun up to sun down… Run Free my babies-before you have to be responsible citizens who vote and pay taxes!

  10. Piping in from here in the boonies…and though I miss the interaction with people, I guess I’m free from these challenges. (And my kids will be able to run around half-dressed like Cris’s but without the worries I would inevitably have if we lived “in town”)…

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