On a recent non-school day nine neighborhood kids, ranging in age from 2-11, played in my living room, jumped on our trampoline, and asked me for snacks. The day before, it was eight kids (all different, except for my own).
If you’d told me when my oldest was a baby that our house would be a neighborhood kids’ hangout spot, I’d have told you to please leave. As a natural introvert in an extroverted world, it was a hard process to let go of my “personal bubble” that extended to my property lines. But I did it, and I’ve found that I actually love it.
Now I don’t want to air my family’s dirty laundry (literal and figurative) in a public forum, but I grew up in a house that was, shall we say, less than conducive for having guests over for multiple reasons. I was always the kid who went to everyone else’s house. Maybe it was because growing up I wasn’t used to having spontaneous guests, but the first few times neighborhood kids stopped by our home, I was a little bewildered and perturbed.
Up until that point, I saw my home as my fortress against the strange, stressful, intrusive outside world. Inside my home, I could let my guard down and be carefree. Inside my home, I was in control. Until I wasn’t. The little people wanted in. They weren’t going to be happy unless I let them in. I had no good excuse for saying no. So in they came, and out went my control. My introverted inner psyche didn’t care that they were elementary-aged people. My introverted inner psyche just saw strangers and panicked.
Of course, they did eventually go home, and shortly thereafter we moved across town into our current house. We had another baby (then another), then our kids grew a little older. Before I knew it, my oldest was in school and I had time to think about what I wanted our lives to look like. I wanted my kids to have friends, and (unlike my own childhood) I wanted them to be comfortable having friends over. And since kids are spontaneous creatures and care not for social norms, I knew that sometimes our guests would be spontaneous as well.
It was still a process of relinquishing control and putting my kids’ relationships at a higher priority than my own selfishness. I had to let go of the misguided concept that I was in full control of of daily life. I also had to learn to get to know the kids who were coming over, and mature as a person. I had to develop skills like managing kids who are not my own, setting boundaries, and speaking up for myself when I have to.
Now that I have a much healthier outlook on being a neighborhood kid hot spot, I feel blessed and fortunate to have them feel comfortable to come over and spend time with us. I enjoy having a house full of kids, if only for the afternoon. I have the opportunity to be a role model and positive influence in the lives of those who walk (or dance, or jump) through my front door. That is not an opportunity I take flippantly; the moms of the houses I frequented as a child helped shape who I am today, and I am grateful for them. They didn’t see me as that scrappy kid who needs to go home already. They welcomed me, showed me warmth, and helped me to see first-hand what family life was like for them.
I also reflect on the concept of community when I welcome these local friends into our home. Our community, for better or for worse, is a foundation for our children. Not only does it shape their behavior (or misbehavior) now, but the community they grow up in helps to teach them how to live and cooperate with others. I could disregard the neighborhood kids as “not my problem,” but denying my place in our community doesn’t actually negate my role in it. Our community is what we, its members make of it.