Sunday, September 6, 2009

Kids' Club

The neighborhood kids have recently realized that our girls are no longer babies. The majority of the children who live on our block are aged 5-10, and even though they're older than our kids, they've taken a shine to Berit and Marta that we hadn't expected.

I think you spend so long in your baby bubble that it's hard to realize that your children will soon be part of something larger -- a culture of little people who don't think it's at all strange to invade your home without knocking, conquer your swingset or immerse themselves in your children's toys.

Since the start of summer we've had a few tagalongs with every evening walk, which our kids absolutely love. Now that school's just days away, the neighborhood gangs seem to be out in full force. They come over whenever we're outside to play on the swingset, and have recently taken to running in our house with Berit to play in her room. If Marta is inside having lunch or watching a movie, they always pop in to cuddle with her and try to get her to say a thousand entertaining phrases. When they see that I have her video monitor in hand, they ask to see her on it, and coo over the littlest member of their club.

Our kids have fallen right into this. They don't bat an eyelash when they turn around and a big 7-year-old is handing them a toy. And the children are so gentle and polite, and are genuinely friendly and playful that's it's hard to tell them when it's time to leave. They call their parents to inform them of where they are, and settle down to play blocks or read books or run around the driveway. They don't seem to notice that they're two or three or four times our daughters' ages.

In the beginning I wasn't sure how to handle them. They're so BIG, with so much to SAY, and I haven't had much experience with kids their ages so I would wonder when they'd run off to be with someone else and let us take our little family walk. But as time went on I realized how much bigger it all was. They had included our kids in the neighborhood pack, and were checking out the welcome potential from Berit and Marta's mom and dad. In fact, I noticed how important it was for Berit to interact with them, and now even Marta is asking to see them when we walk by their houses.

One day we were strolling by the home of two little boys, ages 5 and 7, who were outside playing and who love to fuss over Marta. We walked past and shouted hello, and Berit ran over to have a quick once-over with the youngest. When she was walking back he shouted, "Bye, Berit!" And she thought he had called her another name, so she said, "NO, I'm BERIT!" And he yelled, "Of course you're Berit! Everyone knows that!"

It was cute, and a lesson in kid society. She wanted to be known. This is her social group, these are her peers. They are not her family, nor are they her classmates who have no choice but to know her. They have decided to be friends with her, and she with them.

Trevor has a hard time with all of this. If I had asked him five years ago how he would feel about having kids run in and out of our house, climbing on our swingset and playing wildly outside with our kids, he would have said, "That's exactly how my childhood was! I can't wait for that!" But when the door opens after a soft knock and a 4-foot boy runs in, he gives me a look as if to say, "Oh I don't think so."

He rolls his eyes and isn't as overly kind to the kids as a host might be (he's not mean -- just full of STAY OUTSIDE, GUYS and PLEASE DON'T TOUCH THE FOUR WHEELER).

I said to him today, as five kids had joined our brood and all seven were doing various activities in our living room during "rest time," "This is it. This is what our life will be like for the next 20 years, at least. Do you want to tell our kids they can't do this? Their friends aren't welcome to be here? We're too picky about our toys and furniture to allow you to have good, clean fun with your friends?" And he smiled, and said that it was just strange.

He often talks about how he's not sure whether or not he'll give our kids permission to try beer when they're 16 (NO) or let them drink if they're going to stay at our house (NEVER), because apparently his parents let him do these things and he now has a healthy attitude toward drinking (My parents did not let me do these things and I also have a healthy attitude toward drinking.), and I think he maybe fantasizes about our kids as teens with things like soccer games and trendy music and is really looking forward to that. But I have to wonder if the same thing will happen as is now; when the time arrives, will he realize that, this time, he's the adult in the situation? That it's a whole lot different to be going through it as the parent, as it was the child?

It's interesting to watch this happen. When a woman gets pregnant, she often reads books, searches the Internet and talks her friends' ears off about being a mother. As her children are growing, she makes friends with ladies who have children about the same age, and they journey through stages together. They talk about what's next, how to handle certain hurdles, how to discipline, celebrate, educate. But men go about things so differently. Yes, I know, there are those dads who also pounce on the books and can't get enough of researching baby stuff, but the majority of guys I know tend to take things as they come, and react from a completely unprepared place. I don't think one or the other is better (OK, maybe I do), but it's nice when you can approach things in two different ways, to see what works best for the kids.

The most interesting part of the day happened this evening. After a late morning and early afternoon of the neighborhood's children being one with our family, we had the Dart family over for dinner, and our girls played with some of their best buds, Liam and Brennan. Trevor spent most of the time with our girls, since Ellen and I were busy setting up a garage sale and the dads were hanging with the children, but as soon as they went home Trevor and Berit headed for the swingset (where she's been the majority of the day). I said, "Looks like it's time for a bath." He said, "We're going to play for a minute." I said, "It's past 7:30." And he said, "I know, but I promised." And then they played, hard, with Berit giggling uncontrollably and Trevor laughing as they frolicked and chased and pushed and climbed.

I think he missed her.


Andrea Dekker said...

I think this may be a favorite blog. It is time for you to write a book.

Candace said...

I am struggling with the same issues with neighborhood kids who now want to come over and "play" with Abby just so they can play on our swingset. They are all older and there are never any other parents. I hate, H A T E having to sit there chatting with all of them and entertaining them, but love Abby's face when they are here. Somedays I wish we had a fence and open the gate upon invite only...