How our 2010s kids are becoming 1990s kids

We live on a fairly new street where the skinny pie-shaped backyards all run into each other, without fences or trees to separate them. We have wonderful next-door neighbours who have a two year old and a four year old, so it’s always felt like we share one (slightly larger) yard as the kids play together.

But our shared yard feels like it’s gotten a lot bigger lately, as our three year old and five year old have formed fast friendships with some other kids on our street. Being at the bus stop for 7:25 a.m. is exhausting (SERIOUSLY EXHAUSTING) but it is doing wonders for our social life.

Every afternoon when we return from the bus, we have a quick snack and interrogation (er, conversation) about everyone’s day. Then the kids run to the patio doors to see if their friends have come out to play. At the first sign of someone, they’ve got their sneakers and sweatshirts on and they’re rushing down the back steps.

Before long, a whole gang of them will be gathered in “the yards,” as we’ve taken to calling the long stretch of adjoining lawns. Their ages range from two to nearly 11, and sometimes there is a dozen of them.

They tend to congregate in the yard with the giant play structure, but sometimes they’ll meander over to our yard to play in the sandbox or dig holes in the dirt. I sent out chocolate-chip cookies and lemonade the other day and everything was devoured in minutes.

What’s amazed me most is how the two oldest girls are so skilled at corralling and entertaining the younger ones. As I sit and work on my laptop at the dining room table, I’ll look out the window and see them all clustered in a circle playing a game or clapping for each other as they do fancy jumps off a set of shed steps. It’s like I’ve enrolled my kids in a free after-school program right in my own backyard!

The kids were raring to run outside the other day, but only the two oldest girls were out. I instructed our kids that they needed to ask if the girls wanted to play, in case they were doing “big kid stuff” like making their (totally adorable) Rainbow Loom animals and food charms.

I hesitated as I opened the back door, wondering if the girls would be annoyed to see my two littles running towards them at full speed. But as soon as the girls turned around and saw them, they shouted their names and rushed over to meet them. They spun them around in circles and gave them their famous “running piggy-backs” across the yards.

I stood in the doorway for a minute, marveling at these lovely 10-year-olds who were so eager to play with my much-younger children. Was I like that at their age? I didn’t think so, but then I thought back to the two adorable little boys who lived across from my dad and stepmom’s house, growing up.

Their soft hair smelled like sunshine and they adored me and my sister. I was not quite at the babysitting age, but I loved playing with them and taking care of them as we played in their yard. When the one-year-old sat down in my lap to drink his bottle one day, I remember thinking it was the sweetest thing that had ever happened to me.

There is so much talk these days about how children are living a “playdate existence” where all of their time is structured, even their socialization. Up until now, our kids really have been limited to playdates or playing outside as a family — or with the next-door neighbours.

This is their first taste of the ’90s kid experience that my husband and I had as children: running around with a pack of kids from your street, getting dirty, making up games, and not coming inside until you’re called back for dinner. Our kids return happy and tired, with flushed cheeks and muddy jeans.

The best part is that they don’t even need to go near the street because of the connected backyards. What we disliked most about our yard has now become its best feature.

So what do you think?

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