I love hanging out in our front yard, watching my daughter play. Sometimes she rides her scooter rescuing invisible animals along the way and other times she runs as fast as she can to the mailbox and back. But one thing is always the same: she doesn’t go into our front yard unless my husband or I is there to watch her.
When I was a kid, it was different.
I grew up on Maxon Lane—a suburban neighborhood that I’m sure was just like any other neighborhood at the time. Houses in shades of brown, freshly planted trees, and kids. Lots of kids.
When we first moved to Maxon Lane, I was five and my only objective was to find kids to play with. I was scanning the neighborhood for kids before the moving truck was unpacked. I noticed two kids across the street and the three us aligned and continued on our mission to find more kids. Maxon Lane was a newly developed community so everyone was new to the neighborhood. Without discussion, me and the two kids I just met decided to go door to door asking one, simple question, “Do you have any kids?” It was easy: if they didn’t have kids, we made a note to never go to that house again and if they did have kids, the parents shoved the kids outside to play with us. Our group got larger and larger as we worked our way down the street.
I don’t know what I would do now if I saw a group of roughly fifteen kids, ages four to thirteen meandering around my neighborhood, but back when I was a kid, it was simply normal. And not a single parent in sight.
Our horde made it to the end of the street where the next phase of the neighborhood was still under construction. Us little kids watched as the big kids hurled rocks through the windows of the unfinished houses. I threw a couple of rocks myself, but I only managed to hit the kid standing behind me.
And just like that, friendships were forged. No one had to ask if we were friends, we simply were. From that day on, everyone just played. We never had to go knock on someone’s door because if they were home and not in trouble, then they were outside and playing. All you had to do to find where the kids were was to listen for the hollering and look for the driveway full of bikes.
We played after school until we all got called in for dinner and on the weekends we were outside as soon as we finished our bowls of Lucky Charms. We played baseball and football; we played army and had make believe ‘wars’ until lunchtime. We flew kites, rode skateboards, and we fought. We argued and screamed and yelled about who was up to bat and who got to use the wagon first to careen down the street. No parent came out and mediated. We fought it out. Mostly with words but sometimes punches were thrown and someone cried, but everyone would be playing together again by the end of the day.
We played like that for years, up until some of the kids became ‘cool’ and realized some of the other kids weren’t. Some remained friends and some went on to make different friends. It wasn’t traumatic, simply the way time manipulates youth with something called maturity.
I looked up Maxon Lane the other day on Google Maps. I didn’t even recognize it. But it still made me smile.