April ABODE: Growing room



(Photo by Cramer Photo)

According to 10-year-old Jake Bowling, his dad, Jim, is pretty into the family’s backyard basketball court. “He loves it. He gets out there a lot and shoots hoops.” And dad isn’t the only one. “We do other stuff,” says Jake. “We do [play] basketball, but we just basically play around on there and have fun…[My brothers], Sam and Matthew, sometimes play with their lightsabers. You can see the remains of a battle or something out there.”

The concrete rectangle in the otherwise sloping backyard of Jim and Cheri Bowling’s Greenbrier home has become the center of activity for their four sons (ages 2-10). Built by a local contractor last fall, the spot held a particular draw for the inquisitive boys even during construction. As Jake remembers, “We had a bulldozer in our yard for a long time. I think it took at least a month… It was actually pretty cool.”

Hoop dreams
Not ready for permanent backyard basketball court installation? Just roll this portable hoop and backboard (Downtown Athletics, $179) wherever you have some dribbling space and fill it with sand or water to keep it stable. The height is adjustable, so everyone in the family can get in the game.—C.B.

The heavy machinery is long gone and now, come rain, snow, wind or sun, the boys can be found happily battling Storm-troopers or kicking a soccer ball on the smooth, gray expanse.
As parents of young sons already well know, the energy of boys seems limitless. Having enough space inside one’s home dedicated to the expression of that liveliness can often be a challenge. One of the first things the Bowlings did, upon moving in several years ago, was to enclose the backyard—in essence creating boundaries for that boundless energy.

“I feel like the backyard has totally saved us,” said Cheri. “For the most part, I just say, ‘Go outside and don’t come back in!’” Laughing, she recounted a rare moment when she told the boys that they needed to come inside. “One of the kids [pointed] with his lightsaber and was like, ‘Who are you and what have you done with our mother?’”

“What I often think,” explained Cheri, “is that being outdoors, whether on the Rivanna Trail or just the backyard, not only gives the kids more space and fresh air but it’s an immediate antidote to petty squabbles and bad moods. We all need a daily reminder that the world is a lot bigger than small toys and electronics.”

During my visit, 2-year-old Jonathan was in full whine-mode (as toddlers often are). His mom suggested that Jake spend some time with him outside.

When I asked Jake how he felt about being the oldest brother he said proudly, “It’s awesome.” He continued, “There is a lot of responsibility, but I get to drive first!” With that, he took his youngest brother out to play in the backyard.—Christy Baker