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Open Letter

Can't we all just get along? You have to admit it's ironic when an exclusive, wealthy suburb passes a rule to exclude even many of its own wealthy citizens. I refer, of course, to the new Lake Forest beach protocol so interestingly reported in the Chicago Tribune by Susan Kuczka, which restricts about a quarter of the mile-long beach to adults only. Even the children of Lake Forest, it seems, are not good enough for Lake Forest.

Criticizing an exclusive, wealthy suburb such as yourself is sometimes not just shooting fish in a barrel, it's strapping a big pack of dynamite to the barrel and lighting the fuse. This is one of those times. Does that mean the rest of us, living in the real world, should delicately shade our eyes and look away? Nah.

I realize there are many nice, fair-minded individuals living in Lake Forest who are convinced of their own diversity and tolerance and are saying to themselves right now, "What about Kenilworth? Now they're rich and exclusive!" Yes, but so are you. No matter how many times you've mortgaged that mansion on Sheridan Road. No matter who you vote for. Even if you have a black friend. Even if you are black. (But we know how statistically unlikely that is.)

Look, no one in Lake Forest got forced out of the city due to the lack of affordable housing, the paucity of decent neighborhood schools or the insanity of the magnet school system. You've chosen to sequester yourself in an ultra-wealthy community where you will not run the risk of rubbing elbows with poor, or even middle-class, people. You've guaranteed that your tax dollars will not be used to support any more social services than absolutely necessary. There is a fee, however; those of us who can't afford the price of admission into your club get to make fun of you for it.

So back to the beach. Lake Forest beach patrons were quoted in the Tribune story saying that they go to the beach for peace, solitude, and to hear the waves - things which are apparently ruined by children. One said that if she's at the beach without her own kids, she sure doesn't want to see other people's kids.

Both points puzzle me. Let's start with the peace and solitude thing. I live across from Promontory Point at 55th Street, a lakefront area (including the 57th St. beach) which attracts not just people in the adjoining neighborhood, Hyde Park, but from all over the South Side. The South Side of Chicago is considerably more densely populated than Lake Forest.

Yet I would have no problem finding times and spots where I can be by myself at the water. I don't actually have the leisure to do so, but I know I could from surveying the area when I run. Consequently it's hard for me to believe that the Lake Forest beach, at all hours of the day, is as teeming as a Toyko subway.

In any case - and this brings us to the second point - I find one of the main attractions of the lakefront is the wide array of my fellow citizens enjoying the great outdoors. I've never sat on a rock and silently cursed the people nearby for flying kites, conducting outdoor religious ceremonies, holding festive family picnics, etc.

At the beach itself, the children are easily the most charming part of the experience, including those that do not belong to me. In fact, I enjoy other people's children all the more when mine are not there, in the same way I like seeing other people work when I am on vacation. I was relieved to see one Lake Forest resident quoted as saying she likes "to hear the voices of children on the beach." One hopes her view is not too controversial among you, her neighbors, and that you won't shun her or run her out of town.

Experts can yammer on and on about alleged historical and cultural reasons why some people don't like kids "these days," but the truth is, it's nothing new. There have always been, and always will be, adults who a) have no recollection of what brats their own children were, b) have no recollection of what brats they were themselves, or c) have no idea how unpleasant they are themselves, right now, without the excuse of childhood.

Child-aversion is timeless. I remember it was hard for me at first to reconcile the old people who hated kids with my own kindly grandparents, who would put up with anything. In a childish form of bigoted stereotyping, old people equaled grandparents equaled nice people. The oldest Baby Boomers - newly-minted senior citizens - may think they invented hating kids, but as usual, they are wrong. The Baby Boomers were in high school and college during my childhood, and I can assure them, there were some pretty cantankerous old coots at that time.

God, don't you remember the child-haters from your own past? On our block, we had mental topographical maps of which houses sheltered kid-friendly grown-ups and which houses harbored the mean ones. The mean people might as well have had sloppy swaths of animal blood marking off their front sidewalks in secret symbols. You didn't even stop your bike in front of those houses if you could help it.

Many of the mean people were childless, but not all. I remember one house where no one would play even in the front yard, because the mom was so nasty she banned her own kids from setting foot inside all day, except for lunch. The only difference between the mean grown-ups of my childhood and today is that our mean grown-ups lacked the money or clout to ban us from certain stretches of sidewalk. All they could do was put up fences and plant thorny bushes. Which they did.

I have no sympathy for these people, but certainly they're free to avoid children whenever possible by living in adult-only communities, never attending early shows, and eschewing Chuck E. Cheese. When they want to start sweeping children out of places where kids normally congregate, like so many landmines, that's getting ridiculous.

The silliest part about your beach ban, Lake Forest, is that according to the Tribune article, children and families already pretty much steered clear of the area now designated "Adults Only." It's furthest from the playground and other amenities - and I suspect, like the mean people's houses on my old block, everyone knows they're not welcome.

I can't help but surmise a probable association between living your life in a privileged setting in which all your tastes are accommodated, and expecting that privilege to extend to the great outdoors. This is either the complete opposite of, or exactly the same as, a phenomenon I witnessed many times during a recent vacation in Yellowstone. There, a surprising number of people do not seem to understand that wild animals might attack them, even in their gigantic SUVs. Either these people are blissfully ignorant of the circle of life and so feel unreasonably safe being one with nature, or they expect wild animals to follow civil law.

Lake Forest, you can afford to take the blissful one-with-nature approach. Children are the closest thing you have to wild animals. Kids exhibit a savage freedom in their complete oblivion of accepted social conventions, especially during a splash fight. But do not be afraid. The children will not rip out your throat with claws the size of knitting needles. If my dad can walk up to a buffalo and grab a piece of shedded, mangy buffalo fur from a nearby bush, you can surely sun yourself close to a sand castle under construction.

Warmest regards,

Cate Plys


What would you ban from the beach? Uptight, snobby
rich folks? Obnoxious, snotty Web columnists? Open
Letter is open to letters:


The Open Letter archive - exclusively for your enjoyment.


Posted on June 26, 2007

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
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SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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