The Parent Trap: The streets are silent

The streets are silent, but the kids are busy

The streets in my Far Northeast neighborhood are quiet… too quiet. Now that I spend my days working from the comfort of my own computer, I am more aware of what happens on our block. The papers are delivered at 6:30 a.m. During the school year, the various buses arrive promptly at their designated times. The letter carrier arrives at our doorstep at 11 a.m.  

But what you hardly ever see on our street are children playing. It’s not like we don’t have children in our neighborhood. You see them getting in and out of cars, boarding busses or walking to the corner. They are around, just not… around.

I think about my 10-year-old nephew, sitting by the pool last week. The fun thoughts of frolicking in the pool were replaced by thoughts of a summer’s worth of swimming lessons – six days per week. Hey, it may not all be fun and games, but at least his parents know where he is and what he is doing.

That’s the way it is for today’s children. Regimented days in school segue into planned after school programs. Summers are for sports camps and computer camps and maybe even fat camps. Then there are the regular camps, which also regiment the days. Private clubs surround the city, offering parents the opportunity to keep their children busy. And in the meantime, the streets stay quiet.

Gone are the days when you ran under a sprinkler in your driveway to get cool. The days of buying “pinkie” balls or “pimple” balls from the corner store are also gone. Suddenly, I am really showing my age. But I live in a house where my oldest child seems to have forgotten how to have fun outside. When he’s in the house with his video games or computer blogs, he controls the situation. My youngest child loves the outdoors, but still seems happier when she’s inside watching the adventures of a talking sponge. Not that I’m ready to denigrate the sponge, but at least he goes outside to catch jellyfish.

Maybe, in some ways, this is all a good thing. Few children playing in the streets naturally equates into fewer children getting in trouble. Planning a child’s day means that as a parent, you always know where they are – usually supervised, with other kids. At least they are playing with each other, instead of glued to a computer screen.

Beyond my front door the streets will stay silent. But I guess that I will remain conflicted between the nostalgia of what they now call “independent play” and our sometimes less than brave new world.

The Parent Trap is a weekly column by Patrick P. McNally that will appear on every Tuesday. See others here. Read other NEast Philly columns here.

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