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Raising a Child with the Help of Neighborhood Kids (and Parents)

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I remember my childhood rather idyllically when I think of my neighborhood growing up. I grew up in Tivoli, though back then it was radically different than it is now, full of old natives and young families with nary a Bard student in sight. Our backyard was larger than the one lot on which our house sat, and most every neighbor on either side of us allowed us free reign, even if they didn’t have kids our age. After school and on weekends we would ride our bikes all over town, until someone’s mom relayed the message that it was time to go home. I met my best friend on a corner two blocks from my house while one day wandering aimlessly down the street, alone, in search of a playmate; I was only three or four at the time. My, how times have changed.

I can’t really pinpoint why exactly that friendly neighborhood vibe was so important as a kid, aside from the obvious fact that the safety of my immediate universe extended outside my home and family to the whole town which made me feel, well, safe. It’s something I think about often now, as a parent. I let Coraline play in the backyard unsupervised, but she’s not allowed to go to the front of the house without a grown-up. I don’t know the names of most of the people on my street, but just between my neighbors on either side I usually have a band of children in my house and yard, as many as five at a time ranging in age from two to 11. It’s chaotic and wonderful. Today, several helped to plant seeds in my garden, and then a couple others took up residence in my living room to watch Scooby Doo and eat chocolate chip cookies while my neighbor — another single mom — and I sat in the kitchen and talked.

While this open-door policy quietly adopted by our little part of the street invariably means dirtier floors, more snotty noses to wipe, and sometimes way more noise than my scattered brain can handle, it brings a lot of joy, both for me and Coraline, and the other families as well. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I think they’re right. And now I think to raise a parent, too.

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