Most things in my past can stay there: childhood insecurities, liver for dinner, Z-Cavaricci jeans, and bad boyfriends - smell you later. That said, I'm happy to report that the lessons I learned in youth did lead me to the life I'm living today..and it's a darned good one.
Acne aside, there is one thing from my childhood that I want nothing more than to bring back. I'm talking about something that enriches our lives; the thing that so many kids are robbed of in our fast-paced, technology-driven, fear-based society; the thing that we need to re-vitalize if we want future generations to thrive; the thing many of us had in our childhoods, but have forgotten the value of in today's busy world. I'm talking about outdoor, play-based community folks and I'm here to talk about bringing it back.
Let me start by bringing you back to the glorious, sometimes questionable time that I grew up in - the 80's.
My brother Matt and I spent all of our free time outdoors with our motley crew of neighborhood friends; Cali, Tyler, Travis, Wendy, Missy, and Mandi. We played pickle, hide and seek, tag, and baseball..staying outdoors until called in at night. In the summer evenings, we'd put tennis balls in white socks and throw them high in the night sky, watching the bats dive for them. A weird thing to do, but I'm just stating the facts. We were unsupervised, unstructured, and creating our own rules.
We would also walk to the park playground through the dark and creepy woods, trying to avoid the dreaded "Green Sneaker Man", the name we gave to the local pedophile. To this day, I'm not sure if he actually was a pedophile, or just some lonely old man with green sneakers who hung out in the woods. The facts are fuzzy. Regardless, we'd book it through those woods, risking our lives and laughing the entire time - again, unsupervised.
Once in a while, we'd throw a "party" at Cali's house. This meant we would all sneak into our houses, raid the snack cupboards for the junkiest food we could find, and unload our stashes onto Cali's front stoop. After an afternoon of chasing bats, balls, and each other, we'd power through that pile of twinkies, hostess cupcakes, oreos (anything with an endless shelf life) with huge smiles on our faces. It was our time and it was a good time.
Looking back, I don't recall ever going into those friends' houses (just Missy and Mandi's for the occasional sleepover). I'm not sure if our parents didn't let us in, or if we chose to stay out. Either way, we created our community outdoors and could always count on each other to show up.
I went through a period of time during and after college, moving around and not really having a community. These were often lonely times and they make me appreciate the community I now have in Portland; with families at Longfellow Elementary School, with my Hartley Street neighbors, with the 5:00am boot campers at Dynamics Fitness (we may be half awake, but we show up, have fun, and get it done), and with the growing community of families that join our KMP programs. My adult communities look a little different than the childhood version, but they fill the same basic need for human connection.
Bringing it back...
After some real soul searching and simplifying the mission for KMP (which has taken about 5 years), I've realized that creating outdoor communities for our kids is the true inspiration behind my work. My goal is to bring back that magical feeling of outdoor free play with friends; the feeling that I enjoyed as a child. Maybe I'm romanticizing that time, but it stuck with me and motivates me to re-create the experience for my own kids. When I asked my boys to design a logo for Baxter Bike Club, the only parameters I gave them were, "Make sure the biker has a cape, and you can forget the helmet". We do wear helmets at Bike Club, but I want the feeling to be one of freedom and adventure, something many kids don't experience anymore.
In addition, I hope that KMP programs will provide an opportunity for people to feel less isolated; a place where we can share fresh air, friendship, and a snack (more often Kind Bars over Hostess Cupcakes). The one thing I know for sure, is that we need to stay connected in this crazy world.
Now, I'm not assuming that you and your kids don't already have a great community (and I hope that you do), but I want to invite you to join ours as well. Whenever you're ready, we'll be out there getting dirty, taking risks together, and building the next generation of resilient kids. Hey, the 80's leg warmers came back. We can totally do this.