Kids at Play – A Christmas Miracle?

Capture the Flag on a street in Berkeley, CA on Christmas Eve!

The car slowed to a near halt and the driver rolled down his window. This looked ominous. He had just had to negotiate a gang of neighborhood kids who had taken over the street and he wanted to speak to me. “I don’t know,” he said, “you just can’t speed anywhere anymore.” He was smiling.It was Christmas Eve and an hour before my sons had been moping about wondering what to do because they were on a “screen break”. (Nobody with children in the 7-17 age range needs me to explain what that is.) I suggested they organize a neighborhood game of Capture the Flag. “Oh mom, that’s so babyish,” exclaimed the 12-year-old. “None of my friends want to do that.”

His 9-year-old brother thought it was a grand idea, however. He rounded up a couple of local friends on the phone and they ran down the street knocking on doors. Within minutes the game was on – the street’s two yellow “kids at play” men were in position and the perfect props had been found in dad’s soccer referee flags and some sidewalk chalk.

And, thankfully, it wasn’t just the one driver passing through who looked on benevolently – everybody slowed down and seemed to appreciate the kids’ prerogative to play outside. One even looked sheepish and shouted “sorry” to me as she put a brief stop to the game while driving by.

Needless to say my pre-teen was soon immersed in the game and several parents looked on with pleasure. There’s not much else that gives 21st-century parents that glow of happiness than watching their kids behave like 19th-century children. (Or even mid-20th century children. Let’s just say pre-TV children.)

A couple of the adults eagerly volunteered to stand in for kids who had to be scooped off to archery class or needed a bathroom break. One father couldn’t resist offering strategic tips, periodically shouting out instructions to the kids (who largely ignored him). Another case of parental over-involvement? Perhaps, but when I asked him what the rules of the game were, he responded: “I have no idea!”

What was certain was that the children were having a ball — strangely you just don’t see that sort of exhilaration on the faces of kids playing “Mario Kart Doubledash” — and their parents were thrilled.

Now I can only hope that this type of spontaneous event will be repeated — and regularly. For it’s clear to me that my family lives in a near perfect “playborhood” and it would be bordering on the tragic if we didn’t take advantage of that fact to the full.

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5 Responses to Kids at Play – A Christmas Miracle?

  1. Lin says:

    Excellent! I’m thrilled to see that there are still parents these days that actively seek out ways for their children to get outside and play. It’s rare to see kids outside playing amongst their friends anymore, playing hide and seek, throwing the football etc.

    This is a great example of how parents can reverse the trend of kids staying inside the house all the time, and gives parents opportunity to allow their kids to play outdoors with supervision.

  2. Mike Lanza says:

    I like the fact that you guys took over the street. Bravo! That’s inspiring. It makes me think of all sorts of things we can do to establish the street as a kids’ (ans parents’) play domain. Car drivers aren’t used to seeing us out there, but soon, they will be…

  3. Suzanne says:

    We have had an interesting experience recently. A very friendly family moved in up the street from us a couple of months ago with four boys (ages 9-14). The boys were instantly popular at school so all of a sudden the kid population at least doubled on our street (many were girls… interestingly – hmmmmm….). Anyway, this family recently just plopped a basketball goal up in front of their house – in the street against the sidewalk (a very bold move in this day and age). Now I drive home and have to negotiate at least a dozen boys playing basketball in the street and another dozen girls twisting their hair and whispering. It’s fabulous and works much better than speed bumps.

    The only thing that would make it better is if the girls would jump in and play basketball too… but that’s for another blog.

    The new boys drew in lots of friends that are in their grades… but just the presence of more kids on the street has drawn out other kids of other ages that aren’t necessarily friends with these boys but are just drawn by the existence of other kids.

    We have always had some neighborhood play but it has increased exponentially since this new family moved in. So,… moral of the story….. just one outgoing family with a play attitude can alter an entire street overnight.

  4. Thanks for the comments folks. I agree that it often seems to take one family to spur others into action. We haven’t seen another impromptu neighborhood game since Christmas Eve. But there are kids out on our street playing soccer, basketball, football and/or skateboarding every day. And — I swear I’m not making this up — just as I was typing this, two 9-year-old local boys knocked on the door and asked my 9-year-old and his friend who is over for a playdate if they wanted to come out and build a fort, possibly followed by a game of Capture the Flag. There’s hope for us all!

  5. Simply fantastic.
    Love the pun on neighbourhood – playborhood. It is a gem.