Friday, March 25, 2011

It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

This morning I was puttering in the kitchen while Ryan was playing in the hallway when suddenly I felt a cool draft and heard a small voice chanting, “Ball! Ball! Ball!” Ryan had discovered how to open the front door and was eagerly pointing at the neighbor’s basketball hoop. The smell of the fresh spring air was as tempting to me as it was to him, so we both got our sneakers on, grabbed a ball, and went to explore the neighborhood.

Our house is oddly situated, in that our street is divided into two unconnected parts. The upper road is essentially a large driveway shared by three houses (including ours), and by cutting through our yard we can reach the lower road, which is a long cul-de-sac with a wide open circle at the end. Since it doesn’t connect to anything, there is no traffic other than the dozen or so residents, which makes it an ideal play area. An added bonus is that one of the neighbors has a basketball hoop set up facing the street that is welcome to be used by all. So Ryan naturally loves to play there.

On this outing, as usual, the first thing he wanted to do was to shoot some hoops. I was happy to rebound for him, particularly since his shots rarely go more than 3 feet or so away from the hoop. After shooting for a while, we threw, rolled, and kicked the ball back and forth. And then Ryan decided it was time to explore, so we trotted down the street to check some things out. The first thing he discovered was a whole lot of sticks on the ground. There were long, skinny, bendy twigs that wiggled when he shook them. There were big fat sticks that were good for whacking other sticks. There were several sticks that were almost broken in half, and Ryan was fascinated by breaking them completely and then trying to put them back together again.

When he tired of that game, we walked some more, and discovered a use for frost heaves (possibly the only use): tromping up and down on them! There were several sections of sidewalks with deep heaves, and Ryan explored climbing up and down, at first holding tightly to Mummy’s hand, but then gaining confidence and climbing up and down as nimbly as a little mountain goat.

Before he got a chance to tire of that game, he discovered another fun by-product of New England winters: sump pumps! Several of the neighbors have sump pump hoses running into the street, and the water table is apparently still high enough that they occasionally spit out some water. It makes for the perfect depth of puddles to splash in without needing galoshes, and Ryan took advantage of the wet sidewalks to stomp to his heart’s delight.

But wait, we discovered yet another fun winter by-product: sand piles. One of Ryan’s favorite play areas at the church nursery is the sand box, so it was no surprise that he quickly discovered a pile of sand next to the curb. He patted it with his hands, smoothing the surface and then poking it and running his finger through to make shapes and patterns. And then he began grabbing handfuls of it and watching it run through his fingers. He attempted to give me handfuls, and seemed quite puzzled that by the time he got it into my hand, there were only a few grains left. He then discovered that he could throw handfuls of it, and amused himself by watching it scatter in the wind. He even leaned over and tried to taste it, but I discouraged that quite quickly.

In between all these discoveries, we checked out a whole bunch of other fascinating things around the neighborhood: a chain link fence, a neighbor’s abandoned sidewalk chalk, a few beach balls, a fire hydrant, a manhole cover, a robin singing in a tree. He even found a piece of trash on the ground, picked it up, and before I could take it away from him, ran over to someone’s trash can that was left out from yesterday’s trash pick up, and carefully threw it away!

It’s easy to forget how many fascinating and new things there are in your own neighborhood until you take a look at it through a child’s eyes. Those frost heaves, that sump pump puddle and the unsightly pile of sand may remind us adults of the winter that’s just passed, but to a child, they are delightful playthings of spring!

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