Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Kids at play

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I may in fact be the most athletic person in my family. And then I'm going to wait for a minute until you stop rolling around on the floor laughing and sputtering and saying, "No, really?" before I justify myself. Because those of you that know me (I'm thinking of you in particular, Fryman) might be hesitant to classify me as anything but dexterously challenged. But I do go to the gym weekly, and I've played organized sports over the years with enthusiasm if not ability.

I worry about the boys and physical activity, and I worry that I'm doing them a disservice by not doing more to foster a sense of the fun of sport in them. Right now, they're little perpetual-motion machines and I long for them to just SIT STILL for six minutes in a row, but I know the time will come when the lure of the TV and video games lull them into a sendentary stupor, and I want to make sure that being active is a regular part of their lifestyle, whether it's organized sports or just running around like fools in the park across the street.

With all this in mind, I've been keenly watching a few stories percolating through the media lately. Did you see the story about the school in Attleboro, Massachusetts that banned tag in the school yard? The elementary school has forbidden tag, touch football and any other 'chase' game from the school yard at recess, citing concerns for the safety of the children. Tag, of all things. Can you imagine? You know what? Kids are going to get hurt - scrapes, bruises and contusions are part of growing up. Heck, I think my parents had a dedicated parking spot at the local ER when we were growing up, and we survived.

Less black-and-white is another issue locally. As there is every year around this time, there's been an article in the paper about a family who got in trouble from the local bylaw enforcement office because they let their kids play hockey in the street. As happens every year, the article has been followed by a flurry of op-ed pieces and letters to the editor and radio call-in show debates on whether kids should be allowed to play road hockey (it's Canada; it's always about the hockey here) or whether the kids are a neighbourhood menace.

In this case, the family had been living in their new home on a quiet cul-de-sac for a whole month when a bylaw officer paid a visit because their four- and seven-year-old boys are apparently breaking the law by playing hockey in the street. The article says a neighbour called the bylaw officer to complain five times in a two-hour span one day.

This one, I can see two sides. I wouldn't let my kids play on my street because while it's a fairly quiet suburban street, it's still a through-way and the traffic is steady if not constant. If we lived on a court or cul-de-sac, though, I'd probably be fine with the kids playing - as long as they were old enough to understand and respect the traffic, and the neighbours.

And yet, I can also see where some people might have a problem with the noise. My parents used to live next door to a family that had one of those huge basketball nets set up in the driveway, and they'd be out dribbling the ball (thwack, thwack, thwack - crash, as it bounced off the metal garage door) and hollering at each other well after dark in the summer, noisy enough that you had to close the windows to get any sleep.

In the case of the kids and the quiet cul-de-sac, I think the problem could and should have been resolved between neighbours, without involving the bylaw office. These people have to live with each other, after all. But it's still a bit of a surprise to me that here in Ottawa, of all places, we have an actual law (City of Ottawa bylaw No. 2003-530: Part IX, clause 93, subsection 1) that says "No person shall play or take part in any game or sport upon a roadway." A law that bans children from playing in the street... I don't know about that.

I'm interested in your thoughts on this one. My kids are just on the threshold of this kind of thing, taking tentative baby steps out of my yard and into the big world, and I'm full of thoughts on how the world should be, just like I was full of righteous ideas on handling fussy eaters and non-sleepers and tantrums in public -- before I had my own to deal with! How do you balance a child's need to play with safety, all without incurring the wrath of the neighbours?

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