Speak Eagle

Neighborhood Kids & the Danger of an Open-Door Policy

It’s dangerous to have an open-door policy.

Not to mention messy.

I spy a pair of dirty, yellow socks under the couch in the living room and pop them into the washing machine with another load of clothes, then set a lonely tennis shoe on the front porch and pick up the granola bar wrappers that were abandoned on the kitchen table.

Some days I’m quite aware of how having extra neighbor kids in our house creates extra work. Other days I’m left speechless by what it teaches me about communication.

coupon book“These are for you from my friend,” my son says, and hands me a crayon-colored coupon book with tear-out notes that offer things like “Good for one free hug,” and “Good for taking out the trash.” Valuable coupons, for sure.

Then he hands me a little orange flowerpot with one wilty green sprig, squashed into the dirt. Colorful foam letters are stuck to the side, spelling out, “H I D E Y.”

“He made these for me?” I ask.  My son smiles and nods.

The friend he speaks of is a neighbor-boy. One of the many kids who live nearby and tromp in and out of my house, coming out of the woodwork when their parents stop by to call them home for dinner. “Is Connor here?” “Is David here?”

Most days I’m not even sure how many kids are playing upstairs, but judging by the noise, it’s a small army. Sometimes they all come down the stairs one after another and a neighbors’ eyes get very big. “How many you got up there?”

I have no idea.

And I honestly don’t do a whole lot. Pat heads, give out snacks, break up fights. I just think it’s fun to have them all there, making my home feel fuller and richer.

The top shelf in the coat closet is getting fuller, too. yellow socksThat’s where we keep socks and sweatshirts and any other random items of clothing left behind. I pull down the pair of yellow socks, now clean and dry.

“Hey, buddy!” I yell to my son’s friend.

“Yes, Ma’am?” he yells back from another room.

“Come look at these socks. Are they yours?”

He appears from around the corner. “Yeah, those’r mine.” Freckles are sprinkled across his little-boy cheeks- whimsical cinnamon sugar.

His eyes are deep blue. I catch my breath. They look just like his mamas.’ The mama I watched help him tackle his math homework while he snuggled next to her in a hospital bed as she fought cancer last year.

The mama who passed away.

In the months that follow, I try to ask him questions to find out how he’s feeling. Try to offer encouragement and tell him all the things I loved about his mama. But he’s quiet and seems uncomfortable with my efforts. So, I pat his head and hand him a granola bar instead.

I unwrap my own, and we munch in silence. He takes his last bite, then, with his mouth full, offers a barely intelligible, “Tnks, Ms Hdi!” and runs off to join the light sabre battle with my boys and the rest of the army.

He’s teaching.  I’m learning.  Some things are said best by not saying anything at all.

I look at the flowerpot with the colorful foam “H I D E Y” letters, and I picture him at school, all the kids around him making coupon books and flowerpots for their mamas for Mother’s Day. He was the only one who didn’t have a mama. And so he made them for me. HIDEY plant

I am speechless.

An open-door policy is dangerous. Not because of the mess, the noise or even the light sabres. But because you might find that some kid has wiggled his way right into your heart.

12 thoughts on “Neighborhood Kids & the Danger of an Open-Door Policy”

  1. Reading about your son’s friend and the homemade flowerpot he made completely touched my heart. This was a really sweet entry Heidi. As Ava grows older, I hope her friends always feel welcome in our home, anytime….but especially when they need it most.

    1. Robyn- I imagine your home will be warm and welcoming to Ava’s friends. It’s neat to see that you have a vision for it already!

  2. We always had an open door policy in our house when our daughters were growing up. Boys and girls were in and out of our house and, just like you, I often had no idea how many were upstairs in our playroom at any given time! What I did know was that our grocery bill was higher, the cleaning and fight-breaking-up was multiplied, but so, too, were the blessings to my daughters. As one of your other friends commented, the families of the neighborhood kids who also had an open door policy are the ones we still stay in touch with today. We raised our children together, and that is a bond that will remain forever. Your story about the sweet boy who lost his mama is so touching. So thankful you could be his stand-in mom.

    1. How neat that you have stayed in touch with the other families over the years. Yes, I can see how it can be so bonding- a lot happens in the course of a week in our neighborhood. 🙂 So much better to do life together! Thanks, Susan!

  3. Well, I don’t have any children myself, but I AM a teacher who moved to this small town to teach beyond the classroom and reach hearts. I have an “open porch” policy! My students know where I live and know they can knock on my door and sit with me on my porch when they just want to chat. I’ve had many beautiful conversations with some of my kiddos just watching the world pass by. They know I am invested in them beyond grades and tests. Some of them just need someone to listen and love them. A lot of them need a mom’s love. All of them know my porch is open.

    1. I love that, Cassie! I can only imagine the interesting conversations you have had. How awesome for those kids to know you are there for them anytime they need a friend. Keep on teaching little hearts- you are doing such an important work.

  4. So encouraging. We are the corner house across from a few apartments. Somehow my house is the house that all the kids like to congregate at. It wasn’t my intention and has actually been kind of annoying (because of all the extra cleaning, cooking and fight breaking up) but this last year God really is opening my eyes and heart to it and I’m finding it’s a blessing to have so many kids coming and going through our house. I make a lot of my own stuff and it opens the kids to a new world. A lot of these kids, their parents don’t even pay any attention to them. I am one of the few that can give them a good influence and a good dose of love in their lives. Thank you for the encouragement. I will keep it to hold onto when it seems futile with the end less cleaning, cooking and breaking up of fights.

    1. Charlotte! This is so awesome to hear. It sounds like your corner house has become a lighthouse for the kids in your area. It’s a God-sized assignment and I admire your willingness and courage to accept it! Bless you, my friend!

  5. What an amazing story. As a kid we ran our neighborhood and the only rule was be home by dark. Any given day we would be inside outside at the bay or the pool. The moms and dads that had the open door policy are the ones I’m still in touch with as an adult. They were just as much our parents as my own mom and dad. Today I have an open door policy and a day care. I love to hear the giggles and running in and out that I did so much as a kid. I wouldn’t trade the mess for the love.

    1. That’s so great, Sarah! I can picture everything you described. What a wonderful childhood. And now you get to pay it forward to all the kids who come through your door! Thanks so much for sharing.

  6. Wow! Just, wow. We also have an open door policy and you are spot on. The world needs to know that the rewards are far more than any sacrifice that is made. Thanks for this.

    1. Leona! How fun to hear that you also have an open door policy! I know you are making an impact in your neighborhood, too. We’re all in this together!

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