Saturday, June 23, 2007

Leaving It On The Ballfield

Here's a post written initially at the end of June. This is the problem with being your own editor: you think that there's always more to write and so you wait to finish it, when suddenly you look up and realize that you've already said it all and it's too late. But here's the benefit of being your own editor: you can say, What the heck, and post it anyway. (~JN, 9.6.07)

It's summer. Officially.

In many urban corners, we greet its arrival with a combination of excitement (especially in those places that have a winter to compare it to) and trepidation. Violent crime rates, homicide especially and especially among young people, tend to tick upwards in the summer.

I live in a building on the corner of Fitzhenry Square, an otherwise unexceptional part of Revere Beach. Revere is a city just to the north of Boston, in the flight path to the airport. Revere Beach, in addition to the self-proclaimed distinction as "the first public beach" in the United States, is also zoned as a low-income neighborhood. Further inland, where you'll find City Hall, you'll also find all of the older, lifelong residents, many descended from Italian immigrants but long since assimilated into charming curmudgeons with American flags on their front doors. Revere Beach, on the other hand, is a curious brew. On the four block walk from my front door to the T, I hear Brazilian music coming from an apartment next door, walk by an El Salvadoran flag draped across a window like a curtain, glance at the musical cursive of Arabic on the Moroccan market on the corner (just opposite the Brazilian corner store with a basket of Colombian and Venezuelan flags at the front door), pass a Cambodian family walking their children to school, and gawk admiringly at the garish lawn ornaments of the old Irish-Italian family. Somehow, it works.

But that's not what I meant to write about. It's just background.

In the middle of Fitzhenry Square is a small triangle of grass, about the size of a softball infield, with a few trees. When I first moved three years ago, this plot of land was mostly used for dropping trash on and pretty much ignoring. Last year, the city put up a small chain-link fence around the edge and people started bringing their dogs, which I thought was a better alternative. And then, a couple of weeks ago, I came home and saw a full-on game of kickball on our little plot of grass. What made it significant to me was that there were a dozen children - ranging in age from probably about four or five up to twelve or thirteen, boys and girls, and a range of race and ethnicity that would make a census-taker proud (and not that unlike our neighborhood, in general).

It reminded me of a childhood that I did not think existed anymore - and one that I'm very aware does not exist in far too many neighborhoods. Children do not play outside much these days. In the suburbs, the excuses are largely something like laziness, video games, computers, and scheduled intramural activities like soccer and dance classes. In the city, all of these apply, compounded by a very real fear that parks and neighborhoods are not safe.

And here - right on my corner - were a dozen children, some of whom I'd seen before but many more that were new to me, playing kickball. My work has taught me to be generally disdainful of competitive games. The win-lose mentality can be perilous and counterproductive to lessons in peacemaking - or so I've convinced myself. In order to blunt its more deleterious effects, competitive games need supervision or, more accurately, re-direction. At least, this is what I've told myself, but I realize that I have just fallen into an old trap, one that sees children as less than capable, as requiring my worldliness and wisdom rather than letting them discover their own.

The lessons being learned on that patch of grass, aside from the obvious benefits of exercise, are myriad: inclusion, trust, friendship, communication, assertiveness, self-reliance, empowerment, teamwork, compromise, empathy, motivation, among many others. There is, of course, a place for teaching children the lessons we think they ought to learn, but sometimes we would do well to stand back and let our children teach themselves.

1 comment:

Corrie * said...

Well said, actually... written.

I like how sometimes it is easy to get overwhelmed with negative points, and then some moment will slip in that makes you remember all the good that there really is.