Sunday, June 14, 2009

Girlz n the Hood

I've lived on this street for over 10 years now. Since then, quite a few houses have been sold and re-sold to young couples who've since started their families. I can recall three or four boys arriving, and there have been a few longer-resident families with boys. But most of the people who've delivered their spawn (or moved in with kids) have had girls. They range in age from one to 18 or so. On every pleasant day (and evening) the mid-aged ones (say four to 13) shriek, shrill, squeal, scream, yell, and twitter. They run across the street without looking both ways for cars, and are continually being yelled at for "forgetting" their bike helmets. On milder days (15C/60F and up) they're out there in shorts and Ts, and on warmer days they're running through the sprinkler or hurling water balloons at each other. On cooler days they play complicated female social games with arcane rules that continually change (somewhat like Calvin and Hobbes's baseball game). They leave their bikes and toys on the sidewalk or by the curb, huddle on my porch peering in through the front door to look for cats, and generally terrorize the 'hood.

Their brothers and the other boys are quieter as a rule, preferring inline skating, skateboarding, riding bikes, or playing road hockey next to the street sign that says Absolutely No Road Hockey. ("Car!" Then the scrape of hockey nets being dragged to the side.)

There's a sweet, shady little playground with a wading pool at the south end of the street behind the church, and another park, better equipped and much larger and brighter, just three blocks away. (That's also where the Organic Farmers' Market is held.)

But go one street over and it's empty and quiet. Little girls and boys peep through the chain link fences surrounding their yards, which are filled with play sets and other paraphernalia, and the children are pale and chubby. My neighbours' kids are all long and lean, freckled and fit, and have endless energy, which I of course envy.

Fitness/gym programs at schools and recess games have been supplanted by organized sports a couple of times a week (hockey--expensive, and soccer--cheap), and kids will stay indoors glued to TV, online games, or the Internet, rather than go out and play if they aren't given the boot. Results? Childhood obesity, Type 2 diabetes in childhood, fatty liver disease, high cholesterol in childhood, and heart disease. Among other things, including lower ability to learn in school.

Helicopter parents aren't strictly to blame for this, of course. Though these neighbourhoods are generally safe, cars do zoom by even during the day, trying to escape the left-hand turn at the major intersection one street over (but they meet a cul de sac and have to zoom back again). And there are a couple of drunks on the street and in the boarding house, though there's generally safety in numbers.

Well, it's time to get active -- I have my shopping list nearly done. Maybe I'll add balloons...

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