The secret language of children

Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose
Nothin’, don’t mean nothin’ hon’ if it ain’t free

Kris Kristofferson, Me and Bobby McGee

One of the silver linings of this moment in time is that it has turned our neighborhood into The Sandlot. Our daughter is finally getting the childhood we’d always wished she’d have during the bleakest of times.

I did not recognize it at first. But coinciding with all the panic and bickering and hoarding in the adult world, virtually every child in our neighborhood has learned how to ride a bicycle. And they have all seen the last video they ever want to see on the Internet. Finally, finally, finally children want to be outside.

Every morning, our daughter wakes up, eats breakfast, and gets ready. This used to be a lazy routine for her, but now she wakes up ready to rock. Then she grabs her bicycle helmet and runs out the door. Where’s she going? “Just for a ride in the neighborhood.” And it turns out every kid in the neighborhood is doing the same thing. It’s a silent mutiny. They ride in laps, first down the main streets and then back down every cul-de-sac. And the other kids grab their helmets and join the parade. They keep this up until they have gathered all their friends, most of whom did not even know each other four weeks ago. Then they disappear. And, no, they are not going back to some kid’s house to play video games. That’s the last thing they want to do.

I protested getting our daughter a cell phone before all this because I did not want her to turn into “one of those kids,” who was always squinting down at their screen, missing conversations and, well, life in general. Now I am hearing about her antics from neighbors who are delighted for the entertainment.

The kids disappear through hedges. They know every person’s dog by name. They have hideouts and go to the Intracoastal to catch crabs. They are building fairy gardens with secondhand flowers. They feed the snapping turtles and watch the baby alligator at the pond across the street sunning itself. One lady told me that she and our daughter were racing each other the other day.

It seems to have worn off on the adults too. Now, in the evenings, the adults haul their lawn furniture down to the end of their driveways and stretch out, waiting for anyone to pass by and strike up a conversation. Instead of appointments and tee times, they make themselves available to anyone in their environment, just like the children. They never would have done this before. A desperation for community has replaced cares about status and signaling.

I confessed to one neighbor that I had planted 1,000 flowers in my gardens over the last two months (many bulbs to come up in the next few weeks) and that I was neurotically keeping track of them in a spreadsheet. She just about fell over laughing at me. Everyone’s weird these days and it’s the best conversation starter there is. They’ve all seen me out in the garden hard at work and are wondering what all I have doing. I kind of like the idea that I am doing my part in giving people something to look forward to.

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