My household pays about $1,000 a year in homeowner’s association fees. To some, that may seem an exorbitant amount. But to us, it seems fair for all of our neighborhood’s pools, splash pads, playgrounds, events, and green spaces … except when we can’t use them. More and more I have encountered moms and their kids, who are not residents, using our amenities. A single family or two doesn’t particularly bother me, but when my kids can’t use the splash pad because an entire moms’ group has taken over, that’s when I have a problem.
I don’t take my kids to playgrounds in other neighborhoods unless we are invited by a resident who lives there. Call it courtesy or just plain manners, but I would feel awkward using amenities I don’t personally pay for. So I can’t understand why anyone would plan their child’s birthday party or schedule a 50+ member moms’ group playdate at a neighborhood splash pad or playground unless they live there or someone in the group does.
How do I know they don’t live there? Because I’m extremely nosy. When I actually can score a seat on the crowded bench – the one I paid for – I’ll start a conversation something like this, “Your kids seem to be the same age as mine. What street do you live on?” which is usually followed by, “Oh, you don’t live in the neighborhood? You are here with your playgroup? Which one? Oh, the neighborhood playgroup for the community down the street?” You get the point.
Other communities plan playdates at our parks. And why not? Facebook groups and some local magazines promote our splash pad as “open to everyone” since we don’t have fencing. However, according to the posted signs, our amenities are not actually a free-for-all.
I once virtually tackled a woman for advertising our neighborhood Easter egg hunt in a local guide posted to her blog’s Facebook page. Yes, a shopping center or church might want such publicity in order to attract large crowds. We don’t. Our egg hunt was for our residents to spend time with each other, not with random people looking for freebies.
Calm down you say. It’s just an egg hunt. No, it wasn’t just an egg hunt. The overcrowding caused a miniature mutiny, one in which neither of my kids left with a single egg or a snow cone, for that matter. We arrived at the start of the event, but by the time we got through the mile-long snow cone line, the ice ran out.
My kids did, however, bump into several friends from their preschool, who happened to be sipping snow cones and who happened to not live in our neighborhood. And they weren’t with people who lived in our neighborhood either. Some saw it advertised on that Facebook page. My neighborhood pays thousands of dollars for that event and others like it throughout the year, but all my kids left with that day were tears in their eyes.
During my first year of college, I took an economics course in which I learned “There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch.” And if life after college has taught me anything, it is that somebody always pays. In the case of our amenities, it is me and my neighbors. That *free* snow cone? Yeah, it wasn’t actually free. The splash pad water turned on for two hours? Not free either. Don’t even get me started on the waste pickup after the crasher birthday party when the trashcans were stuffed to the point of overflowing and half the cake was left on the table for rodents to eat.
As moms, I know we are always looking for ways to save a buck. There are tons of sites out there with advice on how to live on a small budget. But using someone else’s amenities isn’t the same as couponing. Sure, it’s cheaper to throw a birthday party at a neighborhood park instead of at the skating rink, but someone else picks up the tab.
What I can’t understand is why so many people choose neighborhood splash pads and playgrounds when city, county, and municipal-district parks abound. Within a ten-mile radius of my house, I can think of three.
As county or city residents, our taxes pay for those amenities, so use them. And unless someone plans to chip in on my HOA fees, I suggest scheduling that playdate elsewhere.
*** In reference to the third paragraph, I would like to clarify when I do ask other moms where in the neighborhood they live, it is not on the premise of determining whether or not they are residents. The topic often comes up naturally, whether by me or by another mom because you assume, if they are at the neighborhood park, they must live nearby. From these casual conversations, I have learned many of the moms do not actually live in my neighborhood. I have never, however, asked anyone to leave.