It’s tough to be a kid these days. Especially if you’re a child enjoying the carefree, sunny days of Spring in Ottawa. During the first week of May, a pile of neighborhood children got together one balmy afternoon, and to the horror of a neighborhood resident, engaged in random, wanton acts of hopscotch grafitti! Yes, a dozen children banded together, in a youth gang, and blanketed four full city blocks.
That’s right, chalk. You know, the kind that comes in bright colors, and washes away after one rain. The harmless kind that I bought my own kids at the dollar store for a buck, which they used to mark up every square inch of concrete pad around — with Go Flames Go! and cartoon drawings of their brother with big ears and green hair, as well as, of course, the obligatory 10 square hopscotch (except my kids accidentally drew only 9 squares, but who’s counting?). Then it sprinkled one evening, and the giant canvas was washed clean, ready for a new coat of chalk.
I do want to be clear here about my personal bias. As the parent of a tribe of energetic children, I’m all in favour of games and activities like hopscotch, especially outside! Growing children need to be off their duffs, and not lying comatose in front of the idiot box and video games — outside all day in the fresh air, just like we used to do when we were kids. And if the youngsters are not engaged in rioting with fellow neighborhood children or threatening to picket because Mom won’t give them candy or dessert before dinner, all the better. Only a parent could appreciate the level of cooperation and organization it would take a dozen children (some who were siblings!) to create this grid together with no bickering and fighting.
But the hopscotch grid that Willem Grant and his sister, Alise, started in front of their Glebe home appalled some crotchety resident, who would clearly rather neighborhood kids were out throwing rocks at car windows, breaking and entering, or spray-painting garages. What started as a little hopscotch in front of the Grant home soon ended up in a massive play zone that had 2,020 chalk squares. And it was promptly power-washed down the drain by Ottawa’s anti-graffiti grinch squad (which I’m sure employs very nice people who must not have any kids). A maintenance truck sat for an hour, washing away the children’s innocent game.
After unanimous public condemnation, the city’s manager of road maintenance, Dan O’Keefe, said that while graffiti was a big problem in Ottawa, “unfortunately” the youngster’s harmless hopscotch “got dragged into the same mix.”
He told reporters that the city should have thought about the matter before having a crew clean up the game that would, in any event, have been washed away by heavy rain.
Exactly. Which is why the city clean-up was a ridiculous taxpayer expense, caused by a meddling, trouble-making resident who had too much time on her hands and who should be flagged at city hall as a public nuisance. There are thousands of kids out there right now bereft of parental supervision — doing drugs, shoplifting from stores, and generally giving the rest of the youth in this country a bad name. All the more reason that, as a society, we should be celebrating the ones who have found something positive, harmless, and worthwhile to do with their time. And commending their parents, who had the good sense to send their kids outside to play and enjoy their childhoods.
Mind you, at least one Ottawa senior wasn’t complaining. Neighborhood resident Stephanie Small told reporters that a woman from a nearby highrise, “90 years old, came out and started hopping.” The senior talked about her memories of playing hopscotch when she was a little girl in Toronto.
City hall may be regretting their hasty move by now. Soon after the hopscotch scandal hit the news, a group of grownup artists, ranging in age from 15 to 50 years old, committed their own random acts of hopscotch, chalking drawings, poems, and numbered squares on sidewalks across the city. It spread like chalk in a rainstorm.
One particular group, the newly formed “Ottawa Community Chalk Network,” covered four city blocks in just one night, all the way to the front door of City Hall. The slogans and doodles, said street artist Max, are a statement against “the heavy-handedness or even blatant incompetence of city hall.”
Why does it take the public to point out the obvious? Grafitti is permanent, destructive vandalism. Hopscotch squares are temporary, harmless child’s play.
Chalk one up for common sense.