In my old stomping grounds nearly every house had children and nearly every Saturday brought new adventures. Most kids followed the same routine. After breakfast and chores we would hop on our bikes and take off, with the moms calling out to be home before dark.
There was no schedule and next-to-no supervision. Maybe we’d find a couple of good rocks and play hopscotch– if anybody happened to have a piece of chalk. Maybe we’d catch tadpoles in the creek while the boys bragged about the copperhead they’d once seen in that very spot. Or maybe we’d head to the vacant lot and play kickball, without coaches, referees, or trophies. We played ‘just for fun’, but it was serious business. After all, we had to see who could run the fastest and who got their way in calling a kid safe or out.
The steady undercurrent of our communal life was a constant struggle to either maintain or topple the existing pecking order, an ongoing game of king-of- the-mountain. Were the games fair? No. Were we protected from injuries? Of course not. We had our share of bloody noses, scraped knees, and broken arms, but nobody got shot, nobody got sued, and we all learned about life simply by living, with the grownups out of the way.
The best thing of all was what went without saying: everybody belonged, to the neighborhood and therefore to each other. We ran through each other’s yards, pedaled down each other’s driveways, and jumped over each other’s fences. We could stop by just about any house for a snack, and any grownup could get us in trouble if we deserved it. In other words, we had a village: an imperfect one, but a village nonetheless. Despite the cornucopia of enrichment programs available to kids today, I wonder whether our society will ever again find a way to meet their most basic human need for the comfort of Belonging, a need that used to be met in part by The Neighborhood.