So, I have this dream that my children could walk outside and play with all the neighborhood kids. They would play in the warm weather for hours on end right in front of our house. They would explore rocks, bugs, the swing set, imagine they were flying, or detectives, cops and robbers, create races on bikes, play with sidewalk chalk, play basketball, whatever, it doesn't matter. They would be outside in unstructured play time left to create their own adventures and bit of trouble.
Currently that is happening. There are two brothers about my kids age that live five houses down. Then there is another little boy that lives two houses down, and right next door is the gaggle of kids living with their grandma, aunts and uncles. It's really pretty great. They all meet up in the afternoon after school and play and play and play. They primarily play in our yard, because we have a rule that I have to be able to see them. I bring out snacks and drinks. I have also been the mom who brings out band-aids when there are cuts, corrected the way they talk, and settled arguments.
This has all been well and good, until more recently.
Things have felt a little too unstructured. They are getting a bit rowdy and out of hand. There are more arguments. There is more bad language coming into the house. This has led Paul and I to discuss what our life looks like in our neighborhood. How do we let our kids play outside with boundaries, loving others who don't believe what we do, enforce rules without hoovering, play without structure yet keep things controlled, allow them opportunity to stand up for what we believe in without giving into peer pressure?
What does it look like to teach our kids to be a light in our neighborhood without darkness overshadowing them?
Part of my problem is I know what I can do. I even know what I should do. But it's gonna be a lot more work. A lot more time. A lot more attention. And yet, when I look at what it would do for my children and the kids in the neighborhood, I know it is right.
I don't know what the lives are like for the kids on our street. When I have been in the two boys house down the street, I saw immediately the lack of toys and the abundance of video games. Every time dinner is called for in our house, the one little boy down street always asks to eat with us. He doesn't get much food in his house. They like playing in our yard. They like having snacks and talking to me on the porch. They always want to show me their new tricks and skills. And their parents are never outside. I am usually all alone. No other adult can usually be accounted for.
So, I have decided to take a more active role in the afternoon with the kids in my neighborhood. I want to plan a story time once a week. Create a game for the kids to play on another day. I want to get the kids involved in making the snack. I want my kids to buy new sidewalk chalk to share with their friends and we can create a drawing day. Maybe even ask the other parents if we can take an adventure walk with all the kids. We could even do a craft with stuff we find on our walk. Or I can rally the other kids to do a clean up walk with us one afternoon.
Most of the things I've shared probably sound like a small version of VBS, or community action kid summer program. That really isn't my intent. Yes, I want to be more active in my kids live outside with influences that currently seem a little questionable. I want to give my kids freedom to figure out who they are, develop friendships with people in their neighborhood, and learn how to cope when things go wrong. But I also want to be that presence in their life that helps guides them, protects them and reinforces what's right and wrong.
I also understand that our lives, just our everyday mundane existence is to reflect the glory and power of our God. Who we are, how we live, the choices we make. All of that in the every day living experience could point others to know and love God.
We have a great opportunity here. I could get some great cleaning time, blogging time, down time, whatever I want to do time while my kids play outside. But then I'm not really taking an active role in their development and understanding of living as children of God. Plus I could be missing out on really great relationships with these other kids.
See I'm not a big fan of programs. As soon as something authentic and genuine turns into a program so that others can join or recreate it, I don't like it anymore. I don't like our everyday living experiences turning into a program. I just want to live my life. But I do see a great opportunity here to take a more active role in my kids relationships with non-believers in just living our life. In creating a safe place for them to come. To create a time in their day that is filled with a very genuine love. (I do not assume that there isn't love in their homes, I'm just talking about Christ centered love and know they aren't believers.)
I also want to model to my kids how to stand up for boundaries in love. How to love others in Christ without turning them into a project. I don't want these kids to be a project to me. What I truly desire is to help bring a little structure to their hours of free play. To be a strong adult presence that represents a safe place. To help create safe boundaries so all the kids feel safe and the smaller ones don't feel bullied.
So please pray for me as I venture into creating a fun activity for my kids and their friends each afternoon. That I would never turn them into a project, but truly just love them for who they are. That I could help model love and intentionality to my kids. That I could be a healthy presence while leaving the kids to discover their own limits with friends. That this idea isn't totally lame and the kids enjoy spending time with me and each other.
Also if you have some good ideas, please share them! I need all the help I can get.