When I was in the fifth grade, my family moved to the suburbs. We lived in a house on a corner lot, and our spacious backyard combined with those of our neighbors behind us. All of the kids traveled in a pack across invisible property lines. There were no fences.
Next door there was a metal swingset, which squeaked and shimmied whenever more than two of us played on it. Another neighbor had planted bushy pine trees in his yard, a perfect spot for hide-and-seek. We ran wild, playing tag until dusk approached and we wandered home for dinner. There were no schedules, no play dates, no individual juice boxes. If we needed to drink water or use the bathroom, we ducked into whatever house was closest to where we were playing.
The suburban neighborhood where we now live is both remarkably similar to and entirely different from that of my youth. There are fences and wooden playsets in nearly every yard, and there has been a recent emergence of basketball hoops in every driveway. Next door, two doors down, across the street and next door to across the street…Every afternoon I hear the syncopated rhythm of individual basketballs. After a while, the sounds of dribbling and lay-ups meld together until they seem to be coming from a single court.
Our children don’t travel in a pack from house to house; they are driven in vans or SUVs to the homes of school friends who live miles away from us. There are no spontaneous games of hide-and-seek or pick-up basketball in our neighborhood. I can accept that times have changed. But when I hear those balls hitting the pavement, I remember how we used to fill our old neighborhood with the noise of just one, bouncing ball and of many children playing together.