When we moved into our house years ago, there were seven neighbor children who ran up and down the sidewalk playing their little games. They would attempt tricks on their skateboards and have Wiffle ball championships and giggly sleepovers. I watched with detached amusement as if they were my own little band of Jems, Scouts, and Dills. The years passed, and the children traded in skateboards for cars and games for jobs. One family moved away, and the sidewalk in front of my house grew quiet.
Over the past few weeks, I have watched my sidewalk grow noisy again with new neighbor children. I think the loudest of them all is my own child. For almost five years my husband and I have been our son’s source of entertainment — his playmates. I’m now watching him navigate the world of house rules, shared snacks, and invisible boundaries. There is one rule that hasn’t seemed to change with the generations: when the street lights come on, you better get home.
My child’s new playmates are four girls and another boy. They play house, war, pirates, and zombie apocalypse (I’ve been watching for 20 minutes, and I think this game is an all-in-one adventure instead of four separate games). There are wagon rides, cartwheel lessons, and a game that seems to be an amalgam of soccer, football, tag, and sword fighting. I haven’t figured out the rules yet; I’m not sure they have, either. I have been replaced by newer, more fun people. As much as I waited for this day, because I know I can’t be my child’s friend and protect him from the bumps and scrapes of childhood playmates; it’s been an adjustment.
In the past, my homecoming was something celebrated at my house. It wasn’t quite as ceremonial as seen on Downton Abbey, but there were a few cheers from my child. Now, he barely waves hello. “I’m playing with my friends, Mommy.” Sigh. I’m content to watch from the porch as I pretend to work on the computer or read or grade. They are on to me, and their looks tell me I’m the interloper. I am not one of them.
It’s a fascinating phenomena, watching children with their unwritten and unspoken rules. My child is figuring it out. I worried he was going to be socially awkward for all of his childhood because he only had us when he wasn’t at school, swim, or soccer. I worried that he would suffer from Only Child Syndrome. He does compete with and sometimes lose to Guinness and JJ, but there is no substitute for honest-to-goodness outside play with the neighbor children.
For now, the swords wave, the castle is under attack, and the sidewalk is decorated. Part of me wants to bottle this time in Atticus’ life. A time when simple disagreements can be solved with rock, paper, scissors. A time when his best friends are the children who share a similar address. A time when the worst thing that happens is the street light coming on before the game is over. A time when, after a scrape, he will still run to me to make it better with a hug and a kiss.