Perhaps it’s the fact the yard is covered with green grass, which is a water no-no in my world, yet a feature imposed by our homeowner association regulations. How we’d love to replace it with artichokes and succulents.
Maybe it’s because my garage is in the back of the house and leads to the backdoor entrance. That sure makes it convenient for unloading backpacks and groceries.
I suppose both of these excuses keep me from perching on the brick steps out front, except once in a blue moon, like on the magical night of Halloween, when hundreds of candy-crazed strangers travel to our “safe” suburban neighborhood to trick-or-treat up and down the tree-lined streets.
Yes, my front yard has practically become a stranger to me, nearly a decade after the baby-rearing years when my girls ran wild with the Bernsteins, the Murphys and the Ritters, the sidewalks their playgrounds for colorful chalk graffiti and clunky, three-wheel vehicles.
It’s kind of eerie how people don’t venture out front anymore.
The children in those other families have gone off to college. They’re the same children that showed up at my front door when my first daughter was born, asking “Can we see the baby, Mrs. Bradley?” Before going away, they had graduated from a variety of private schools in the city. When I was growing up, every kid on my block went to the same public school.
Our pediatrician, who lives in the hood, came over when both daughters were born and delivered hand-knit sweaters she had made for them in her spare time. We no longer go to her house for annual neighborhood Christmas parties. We just see her face when the girls contract a bug, break an arm or crush a finger in a door.
Sure, once in a while, I park at the curb or a soccer mom picks the girls up out front, and I wave to Mrs. Bernstein across the street. But on most days, I shuttle them through the back.
Once inside the back door, my daughters quickly become shut-ins, burdened with hours of homework, entertained after with hours of FarmVille or shows like NCIS. When I was growing up, everyone ran out front after homework, playing ball in the street, climbing trees and doing cartwheels or just shooting the breeze on the curb.
What has changed for me and my family?
Is it having personal computers that lure us into a false sense of “community connection” that actually keeps us from having a real one in our very own neighborhoods? Is it the security issue which gives parents a false sense of panic over children being abducted on their lawns by a stranger? Calming that hysteria is the subject of the eye-opening book, Free Range Kids.
I know it’s not just a city thing because last Friday night, on our way to a friend’s home for dinner, we drove down a thoroughly urban street where parents with toddlers were hanging out on their stoop, the children playing and the dad pouring his wife a glass of red wine.
I felt envious. Here I live in one of the most coveted neighborhoods of San Francisco, and I’m lacking all that I truly desire on a Friday evening: the family outside taking in the sunset, sipping organic wine, moving to the rhythm of a glider, and waving hello to other families doing the same. I guess you could say I need to move to the country. But, then again, think of that couple on their stoop on Divisadero Street.
The concept of the country can and should always be in our minds. It is that concept that keeps neighbor connected with neighbor, every night, not just that one October night when we venture out to the stoop.
This is the latest entry in Luanne Bradley’s column, Life in the Green Lane.