National Night Out

August 3, tonight, was National Night Out.

In Tacoma, there are organized block parties and gatherings at places like the Boys and Girls clubs.  The idea is that if people know their neighbors and own their streets, crime goes down.

Neighborhoods seem to run in cycles here.  Young couples with babies or little kids move in, the kids go to school, grow up, leave for college and the older couple moves out and is replace by a young couple with kids.

My youngest daughter and her pals across the street are college age now.  My grandkids come to my house almost every day, to ride bikes, chalk on the sidewalk, play games out side and the usual summer stuff. 

Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve seen neighborhoods change radically.  I as a child of the 50’s with stay-at-home moms, bread vans and milk delivery and the Fuller Brush Man, ice cream trucks and lots and lots of neighborhood kids.  We walked to school together, we went to scout or campfire girl meetings after school, walked home through neighborhoods we knew and played until dark. Those were my California days, up to the time I was ten.

When we moved to Tacoma about 15 years ago, I thought we’d find that sort of a neighborhood.  We didn’t so much.  Kids are driven to school or catch a bus, they go to daycare after school, do organized sports and come home to eat dinner and go to bed.  We were incredibly lucky to find a like-minded family across the street, and kids that wanted to play flash-light hide and go seek on summer nights, ride bikes, go to the zoo, and just hang out and play legos or Playmobil at my house. 

My grandkids haven’t been so lucky in finding neighborhood friends. So my grand-daughter made up flyers and rode around on her bike, putting them under doormats or insides screen doors.  “National Night Out.  Go for a Walk and Meet your Neighbors.  Come by the corner of N.28th and Mullen for cookies in our yard.  Kids welcome!”

And tonight, we set up a card table in the front yard, and put out jump ropes and sidewalk chalk and bubble stuff and wands.  We baked brownies and chocolate chip cookies and snickerdoodles.  We set out the plates and sat down on our front steps to wait. We’d said we’d be there from 6 to 8.

People jogged past.  Someone walked their dog past.  We had our chalkboard out with a sign that said National Night Out and Cookies!  But no one stopped and at 6:15 I was having a very bad feeling.

But then people with kids started to arrive.  And it was great!  Some we knew but had schedules that didn’t jive with ours. Others were strangers, from just half a block away, kids we had never seen!  We met older couples whose kids had grown up, and a couple of near babies with their moms. Kids stayed and played.  Bubbles everywhere and someone bought a Nerf gun, and bikes and scooters were racing on the sidewalk.  It was great.   Then we hit the jackpot, with a girl just up the street that we hadn’t met because she wasn’t supposed to cross the street alone. 

Unless, of course, she is coming to our house now!  A new friend who is home most of the summer!  Perfect!

I think this is the best thing we’ve done all summer.  And I think that even the kids who have really busy schedules may find some time to wander down and play here.  And I now know quite a few more of my neighbors, so that worked out well for me as well.

Happy National Night Out!  I hope you did something great in your neighborhood too.


8 Responses to National Night Out

  1. Little smile… broader smile… big smile… grinning wide!

    Thanks Robin, you just made my day! 😀

  2. This is a great post. Thanks for making me have an even bigger smile than I started with today. 😀

  3. Great post. One thing I love about my neighborhood is the fact that there are kids running around from house to house being kids. I’ve got to send the link to this to Lenore at Free Range Kids – she’ll love it.

  4. I love this! If you’re interested, here’s another idea for you and your granddaughter to take on possibly next summer that we did this summer on our block:

    It was truly the most community-building experience I’ve ever had and the kids have played together *OUTSIDE* all summer long. It was really great and I’m happy to advise you if you have any questions.

    Enjoy the kids, your new neighborhood friends and the rest of your summer! Bravo to you both! 🙂

  5. You are fortunate to live in a country were children can wander about. Here across the world where I live, not even adults walk around alone, especially in the dark, if they have a choice. And then there are those who have no choice, and are permanently at risk. Cherish your freedom. It sounds so blissful.

  6. Janine, I am so sorry to hear that.

    Children in the US are definitely not as free to run about as I was when I was a child. National Night Out is part of the effort to restore that sense of community to neighborhoods, so that children and everyone can feel at home and comfortable walking about.

    I have lived in cities where I did not like to venture out as a woman alone in the evenings. For a time, there were women’s rallies called Take Back The Night where women would take to the streets in groups simply to walk in the night and assert that they had a right to be there and be safe.

    No one should have to feel like prey in their own town. I am very saddened for you.


  7. I want to be your neighbor. I’m 25 now and I have yet to live either in an apartment or a neighborhood (where I am now) where I really know my neighbors. Sure I can tell you the names of the people directly around me, but I don’t know anything about them. People tend to stay inside their homes after work and the process just continues to repeat itself.

    I hope by the time I have kids we as a society can return to the days of kids running free and the community watches over them.

  8. Hi Amber,

    I think the trick of it is you have to start pretending you already live in that sort of neighborhood. Say hello to people a lot. Knock on a door to borrow an egg. If someone new moves in, knock on the door to say Welcome and maybe take over cookies or brownies. Step back about 60 years to that sort of neighborhood interaction. Being the one to start it isn’t easy! But I’ll bet a lot of your neighbors would really like to know the people around them better.
    Good luck! The world needs people like you.