Sociability, Community, and Kids

{not my daughter, just something I found on Flickr}

I am stricken agape with the kind of sociable creature I’ve become at the hands of my daughter. She is well-known in our neighborhood for walking up to people, introducing herself, telling them her age, asking theirs, and then suggesting activities they can do together. Partly a consequence of this (as I’ve commented previously), her social calendar is chock-a-block, far exceeding anything my spouse and I have ever known personally. As as goes the daughter calendar, so go ours.

It’s not that I’ve been a complete misanthrope throughout my youth (though I admit to having dabbled in this, especially when I was a teenager). Nor am I in any way reclusive (working from a home office is not reclusive!). In fact I have had bouts of hyper-sociability, independent of my daughter’s meddling. I’ve always had lots of friends, residual and emergent, and there have been times (few and far between, but they do exist) in my life when I’ve catapulted into the ‘life of the party’ role, taking all kinds of social risks that would horrify me on any other day (and Effexor was only partly to blame), and that could ruin careers in this era of Facebook…another post for another blog…

What I’m getting at: preschoolers have this wonderful effect (even moreso than urban dogs do) whereby they bring adults together in parks, at swimming pools, at their dance classes (etc.) – adults who more likely than not would otherwise not speak to one another. This makes me hopeful.

I (like so many) was raised in a North American suburb, to where many parents in the 1970s-80s flocked (away from cities) with their young families. They were attracted to the suburbs by not only lower real estate prices, but also a perception that these were better places to raise kids – reduced crime, more open spaces, bigger houses, and the lot. These were places where families lived in private bubbles, where the formalities of friendly interaction were structured by fences, (mostly) unused backyards, and the shapes, orientations, and distribution of private homes, arranged in these complex, growing fractals of residential monochrome (Check out the film The End of Suburbia (2004) for a great discussion of this phenomenon in the light of peak oil and other sustainability issues). In retrospect my childhood was socially impoverished due to geographical accident.

But cities are giving me hope – these places where we’re forced into each others’ company, because the public park is the back yard, you can always hear the neighbors having sex or doing renovations, and if your dog craps somewhere, chances are good that someone will step in it. Not that I like hearing our neighbors having sex (I actually don’t hear much of that going on, which worries me a bit…), nor stepping in dog shit. What I like is the fact that we live intimately enough in dense cities that we have to develop customary ways of dealing with that intimacy, and we have to do so amicably (because, for instance, that dolt who yells out homophobic slurs at passersby is going to see the object of their derision in the street again and again) …which brings me back to…

The sociable daughter. It seems that the free-flowing social exuberance of a four-year-old is something that can bring communities together. We’re all making friends here now. It takes a child to raise a village.

Baby Disco image credit: Chip Harlan, 2009 (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Suburban Sprawl image credit: John Krzesinski, 2009 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).