Some of my fondest childhood memories started with a simple knock on the door. Way back when, before cell phones and Facebook and texting, my mother would feed me and my sister breakfast or lunch and tell us to go outside to play. We’d head out, my little sister running fast trying to get outside first. When we got outside one of two things would happen. If we saw a friend — and we had almost a dozen between our block and the next — we’d run over and start playing. If not, we’d start knocking on doors.
Most of the time, the front door was open so we didn’t have to knock. Only a screen came between us and the person we were trying to play with. When they heard our calls, they would run out, holding balls, chalk or jump ropes. They might even head to the garage and pull out skates or a bike. From then on, we’d run around, screaming and playing. We were a group of kids with about five years between us in age from youngest to oldest. It was fun. It was loud. It was exhausting. By dinnertime we were spent and dirty, ready to eat, take a shower (or get a washcloth bath), watch one show if we were lucky, read a book and get to bed.
Yesterday my little one was bored. I told her that we could go for a walk and see if we could find someone for her to play with. She didn’t like that idea at all. She wanted me to text people. TEXT people. I put my head in my hands. This wouldn’t do at all, I told her. We were going to find someone to play with.
First, we rode our bikes over to her BFF’s house. (I did end up texting that child’s mom, who told me that her daughter was outside playing with another girl.) We got there and the kids weren’t outside, though. Go knock on the door, I told my daughter. She refused. I walked up to the door, hoping to set a good example. The little one shrieked in horror, riding off down the block while telling me I was “so embarrassing.”
No one answered the door so I turned around, got on my bike and caught up with my scowling kid. Next, we biked two blocks over to a block where we know kids in her grade. As we were riding past one house we could see a bunch of girls playing in the backyard. Girls my daughter knows and likes. I was about to get off my bike so we could knock on the door and again, she got hysterical, telling me it was “weird” to knock on doors. She flat out refused to do it. I wasn’t going to push the issue. We turned our bikes around and headed home. I made one more suggestion, though: Maybe we could ride past one more house. My little one wanted no part of it. When we got home she put her bike away, took her scooter out and started riding around, happier playing alone than taking the chance of knocking on a door and asking another kid to play.
This exercise really made me sad. Even today I wonder if my girls are missing out on learning life skills. I know they are missing out on fun. There’s nothing like knocking on a door and running around with friends. How did we get here? How do we find another path? I don’t have an answer. It’s cultural — in my town, at least. Any ideas?