Taking back the streets, one kid at a timeGUEST | EDITORIAL BY CARRIE BLANKENSHIP | CONTRIBUTING WRITER Every time I get to make the occasional run to Jay’s Market for bananas or a jug of OJ and I don’t have to swerve into another lane to avoid hitting a kid on a bike without a helmet who seems to have forgotten where the division line between the bike path and the street is or slow down to let some other children cross outside of one of the many crosswalks peppering the downtown area, I am thankful.
It seems that these trips, without the distractions of unsupervised, misbehaving children, are becoming fewer and far between.
I grew up in this community. I rode my bike to Norm’s market at an age much younger than I allowed my own children to venture off into our streets alone. I want my kids to be able to experience the responsibility that comes with the freedom of exploring one’s community, but I’m afraid that they will be looked upon with ridicule and misunderstanding due to the few bad apples who ruin it for everyone. While I realize that the world is a different place than it was in the 1970’s, people are inherently the same.
So it troubles me when I run these little errands in a downtown that should be charming and delightful and full of folk waving to one another and happily going about their day, and instead I am faced with foul-mouthed preteens who seem to have little or no regard for people or property.
Watching kids not move to the side when an elderly person needs to get by on the sidewalk makes me want to grab each one of them by the ear, sit them down and give them a quick lesson in respect and common decency. Seeing them bolt across the street late in the evening 10 feet from the crosswalk instead of in the crosswalk makes me want to roll down my window and scream, “what are you thinking?” Hearing them cuss and joke about “shooting up” well within earshot of anyone listening makes me roll my eyes and wonder who, exactly, is parenting these kids who are close in age to my own. Who?
As I stand there and wonder what to say to these children that would actually make a difference, something they would really hear before writing me off as a nosy old (35 year-old) woman, it occurs to me that I am just done with being quiet. I am done letting preteens run my beloved community, making it a place that others don’t feel comfortable frequenting because of their very presence. I am done.
We, as adults, have got to stop turning the other way when we see kids being disrespectful. If my children, any one of them, were talking like that I would expect and welcome some kind yet wise words spoken to them to remind them that they are, indeed, in a store and not a locker room. I realize that there is a fine line between minding your own business and parenting someone else’s children, but I feel that we, as a community (even as a society) have become complacent. We have become too afraid to say anything for the fear of running the risk of offending someone or over-stepping boundaries. We have been stripped of our voices, voices which could be used to remind, educate and enlighten our youth. Instead we stand silent, still and wonder later “what could I have said?”
I never want to wonder.
I know these kids aren’t bad, most of them. But I honestly don’t believe they are aware of how their actions and behaviors are viewed. If their future selves could look back on their present selves, they would be saying, “Dude, chill out and show a little more respect.”
I remember being that age, being too young to drive and too old for play dates. I know it’s tough, I know transitioning into a teenager and young adult is not easy, but these kids have got to realize that they share the town with our entire community. They are looked up to by younger kids and looked down upon by older folks who just shake their heads and mutter, “Kids these days.”
They are in between, and that is a hard place to be but it does not give them a license to act like a complete tool.
Tonight was my breaking point. As I drove around the kids crossing in the wide space between the crosswalk and the entrance to the parking lot in front of our town center, I slowed, rolled down my window and said, “Hey, there is a crosswalk right there, I would hate for one of you to get hurt because you were not in it.” One of the boys quickly said, “Sorry.” “Don’t apologize to me, just use the crosswalk,” I answered and continued on my drive home.
From now on, that’s the way it is going to be. When I see them being disrespectful, I’ll kindly point it out. When I see them being unsafe, I’ll kindly point it out. When they flip me the bird as I drive away, so what? Hopefully, they will have heard me.
I encourage all of us to do the same, and if it is my kids you see not using the crosswalk, I want you to tell them. Because someone has got to be the adult and it is about time that we started acting that way and stopped being quiet.
Carrie Blankenship has lived in Lake Stevens since 1978. She and her husband both graduated from Lake Stevens High School and are currently raising their three children in the community they adore. She writes a parenting column, Kids and the City, at Seattle Mom Blogs (www.seattlemomblogs.com).