There are parents who won’t let their kids come to our kid’s neighborhood — And they are missing out.
One of my favorite neighborhood kids is celebrating her birthday tonight and invited a few friends over for pizza.
Her mother received a text saying that one of the friends can’t come. It wasn’t a simple polite decline, but instead a long text explaining that the family isn’t comfortable with their daughter coming to our neighborhood and that its not personal but they hope the girls can be friends and hope “that you can understand.”
How can the place you are from — the neighborhood that makes and made us, the place where we sit with friends on our porches, the place where we walk our dogs and carry our groceries home from the store, the place where we plant our gardens and tuck our children in to bed — how can that not be personal?
This neighborhood is as much a part of my person as all my memories of backyard barbeques, the advice my grandma gave me, the cry of the newborn next door, the scar on my left hand.
This isn’t the first time someone has said they wouldn’t come here, of course — just rarely do people say it unashamedly and out loud. A Boy Scout troop cancelled their community volunteer event in our neighborhood a few years back because there was a shooting behind my house. The troop leader decided it wasn’t safe to bring the kids here, as if our kids don’t live here, as if we live in a constant state of gunfire and murder, besieged in our homes, as if dying were a way of life for us and as if our neighborhood wasn’t shocked and in mourning, as if the man’s mother hadn’t thrown herself on the sidewalk where he died, her sobs ricocheting off clapboard siding and cracked concrete.
The Boy Scout troop didn’t come to help with our neighborhood festival. We would have loved to have them but we went on about our business anyway. We filled up the old parking lot with homemade games — a ring toss, apple bobbing, a fishing game made out of a plastic pool and papier-mâché goldfish — and the kids paraded across a pick up truck stage in fanciful costumes, princesses and ghosts, a wizard and a ninja, a robot stiff in tin cans and carboard boxes, and everyone got a prize.
It’s not that things are not hard here — they are. We are a poor neighborhood with all things that brings with it. I have called an ambulance for a woman overdosing on the sidewalk, I have broken up fights in the park, I’ve watched too many of my neighbors be carted off to jail. But to imagine that there is something in our character that makes us dangerous to others is a refusal to understand the state of siege that others — the people outside this neighborhood — have put us in. Every time the tools have disappeared from my shed, every time someone steals a gallon of milk from the grocery store, every time a house burns down because of faulty wiring here it’s because the minimum wage is a fifth of what actually pays rent and it is because these houses are owned by investment companies and it is because the police crawl our streets eyeing our children who just want to go play ball and be kids.
None of us are one thing. I’m proud this neighborhood is a part of me and where I have chosen to raise my family. This is the neighborhood that has dropped off a hundred meals over the years when I’ve been sick. This is the neighborhood of sledding on trash can lids, of stray cats curling up on the porch swing, of turtles in the park creek, of grandmothers shushing crying babies and dads setting up soda pop bottles so the kids can bowl in the street.
And tonight, this is the neighborhood of preteen birthday parties, girls laughing on their friends bedroom floor, telling secrets about their crushes, eating pizza. Happy birthday, sweet girl. You are one of my favorites in a long list of favorites and today you are at the top. Here’s to extra cheese and Pepsi Cola, save the pepperoncini for me.
I feel sorry for the parents and kids who will miss this.