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Friends and fun, right in your back yard

Breathless and sweaty, my two little boys run to the car after a late-afternoon outing.

“That was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life!” the 7-year-old squeals.

“Yeah, when can we come back and do that again?” the 10-year-old asks, panting.

Okay, seriously? In the last several weeks, I’ve hosted a birthday party at Inner Peaks Climbing Center, carpooled to the U.S. National Whitewater Center for kayak lessons, lugged carloads of kids to jump at Sky High Sports, and led a bike excursion all over Little Sugar Creek Greenway. And THIS was the best day of your life?

We had just finished grilling out.

And it’s not like we roasted a pig over an open fire pit. We cooked burgers. At our neighbor’s. And the kids ran around the backyard, shooting hoops, kicking soccer balls, and pushing each other on a rope swing.

It didn’t cost a dime. I didn’t even have to drive. I didn’t need gear or a water bottle. I didn’t need my phone, a first aid kit, or even a PLAN. We just showed up and everybody had a blast. So what in the world have I been doing all these weeks?

But that’s the thing about Charlotte. You can drag your kids all over this great city, from Discovery Place to the EpiCentre, ImaginOn to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, or any sporting event, concert, or arts festival. But one of the biggest attractions in Charlotte is the community within your community. Your neighborhood.

Who needs the Intimidator at Carowinds when you can push somebody down the sidewalk in a cardboard box mounted to a skateboard? Who needs the Latta Park spray ground when you can drag out the hose? And the shaving cream. And on our street, we have enough Duke and Carolina alums for our kids to stage their very own ACC championship game – complete with mascots. I can think of two kids perfect for playing a devil and a ram.

And your neighborhood association, block captain, or any excitable neighbor on your street is better than any social planner. I’ve lived in four neighborhoods in Charlotte, and hands down the neighborhood events are the most well-attended, seasonal, social gatherings around.

Caroling on Christmas Eve. Halloween costume parades that end with a pizza party. 4th of July barbecues, Easter egg hunts, Labor Day cookouts, ornament exchanges, back-to-school bashes and Super Bowl parties. I lived in a neighborhood where one mom assembled 100 gingerbread houses for all her neighbors to come and decorate. It was BYOC – Bring Your Own Candy. Brilliant.

Literally right in your own back yard you might have a book club, bridge club, supper club and wine club. I don’t even have to join a country club, I just go to all the neighborhood stuff and wait to be invited to tennis. I’m saving a fortune in dues.

In fact, we just moved into a new neighborhood and based on that “best day ever,” I outfitted our yard with a new basketball goal, soccer goal, rope swing and a grill. I stocked a cooler with juice boxes, the freezer with ice pops, and put a sign on the front door that says, “Come Around Back.” The party will come to us.

Before I make the pilgrimage to Great Wolf Lodge, I’m going to exhaust everything my neighborhood has to offer first. And read the next book for book club. Plan my entrée for supper club.

And start saving my candy.

Tracy writes a weekly column for the Observer’s Carolina Living section.
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