"Street, please, Mama?" E says, her face turning toward me, her eyes big and hopeful.
"Yes, E, you can go into the street, " I say, smiling at her polite request.
Yes, we let our kids play in the street. As long as there's an adult there to watch. Both girls are careful, always running full tilt toward the sidewalk at the first sound of a car's motor.
But both girls are small, shorter than the hood of most cars, so we always watch vigilantly for cars. We constantly remind them they can't be seen by drivers and so must be extra alert and extra careful.
We know this is not the safest idea. We didn't always do it; we waited a year after moving here before we let Z ride her bike anywhere but the sidewalk, finally relenting when she learned how to pedal AND steer at the same time. Not long after, her sister joined her, running her doll stroller in circles. And then the dog wanted to join in and pretty soon the whole family spends long periods of time hanging out in middle of the street.
We are fortunate enough to live at the bulb-end of a cul de sac, what must be the ultimate in suburban living. Cars who come down our street are either neighbors coming home or lost, wandering strangers. We've come to trust and love our little quiet stretch of pavement.
Years ago, I read a book for a book group I was in at the time called "Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in An American City" by Peter D. Norton. The history of the street as a concept was something I had never considered much before and I was struck by how much the use of streets has changed, from the early days of a pedestrian thoroughfare to one dominated by the automobile.
Truth be told, the book is a little dry and academic for my tastes but even though I normally remember so little of what I read, I remember large sections of this book, dogearing so many pages that the top of it is noticeably thicker than the bottom. I think it stayed with me because when I read it, Zoe had just been born and we lived on a busy street in California, one of the few around without a stop sign at every intersection, so we were a popular choice for people who wanted to race to their destination, sometimes literally. We immediately feared for her safety, the random screeching of muscle cars racing or teenagers on motorcycles or commuters headed home after a long day who were desperate to shave off a few seconds from their ride home raced by close enough to rattle our windows.
"Until the 1920s, under prevailing conceptions of the street, cars were at best uninvited guests. To many they were unruly intruders. They obstructed and endangered street users of long-standing legitimacy. "
"Today we tend to regard streets as motor thoroughfares, and we tend to project this construction back to pre-automotive streets. In retrospect, therefore, the use of streets for children's play (for example) can seem obviously wrong, and thus the departure of children from streets with the arrival of automobiles can seem an obvious and simple necessity. Only when we can see the prevailing social construction of the street from the perspective of its own time can we also see the car as the intruder."
As long as we were in that house, we obviously could never let our child play in the street or anywhere near it and even limited our time in the front yard. What certainly didn't help: one neighbor told us stories about the year before we moved in when, on two separate occasions, wayward cars came flying up the curb into her front yard, flattening three foot shrubs.
So when we looked for a house in Virginia, we knew we wanted to be walking distance to town - I was adamant I didn't want to have to drive to get EVERYWHERE - but we also wanted a quiet, peaceful place. One with a very low potential for flying cars landing on front lawns.
We feel so lucky to have found the house that we did. Walking distance to the rec center and the coffee shop, on a quiet street, surrounded by (mostly) lovely neighbors.
Neighbors who don't mind us playing in the street. (I think.)
I didn't understand the value of a cul de sac until we moved here. I spent the last fifteen years of my life living on busy streets, major thoroughfares with fast cars and limited safety.
And now I am officially in love with the cul de sac.
I do believe my suburbanization is complete.
How about you? Do you let your kids play in the street?