As a kid, we lived out of town and there weren’t really other kids my age in safe walking distance. I had a little sister and we definitely played together a lot, but, like any brother and sister, we needed some time apart and had different interests. As a result, I learned to have a lot of fun by myself. I have vivid memories of tossing a baseball in the air, hitting it as far as I could, then walking after it to hit it back the other direction. The same game worked for throwing a baseball or a football, or for shooting a basketball, or for just walking around and exploring our yard. The common theme for these activities was that I was alone with my thoughts. This inevitably led to various iterations of “narrating” or calling fake play by play for myself. I loved these times and, maybe as a result, I still cherish time alone to think and work through problems or decisions with my inner monologue (or sometimes dialogue) as the only participant.

As a parent, my kids have a much different life. We live in a neighborhood with several other houses very close by with children of a similar age, and they’re all friendly and play well together. A large majority of time outside leads, sooner or later, to group play. I’m super grateful for this. I love our neighborhood. Even though I loved the way I grew up, I’m glad my kids have easy access to friends. They still get some alone time (and sometimes seek it out), but it’s not the default. I’m curious to see how this might affect their individual preferences as they grow and mature, but I think the bottom line, and my ultimate point, is that I don’t think there’s necessarily a “better” way of growing up. I wouldn’t trade my solitary playing as a kid for anything. I’ll bet the house that my kids, when reflecting back thirty years from now, will feel the same about the group play made possible by impromptu neighborhood meetups.