When I was a kid, a week off of school would have meant lots of time wandering the neighborhood. I would go out in the backyard and hang out by the creek, the neighbor’s swing set or in another neighbor’s yard until some other kids showed up.
We would round up a game of kickball or tag or we would all grab our bikes and ride in circles up and down one driveway over to the next and back again.
In the summer, we would find a bucket and catch crawdads in the creek behind our house. If a friend invited me over, I would cut across backyards and crawl over fences to her house for a day of hanging out in her backyard or basement.
After a long afternoon, my mom would yell out the backdoor or call my friend’s mom to ask me to return home.
Now that I have kids, we live in a world of 6-foot fences. We barely see many of our neighbors, and don’t know all of their names.
Within a mile radius of our house, children attend school districts in three different suburbs. Intermixed with those, kids go to Catholic schools, Montessori schools and Christian schools. Many others are home-schooled.
Most of my children’s closest friends don’t live within walking distance. Some require a 20-minute drive or crossing a four-lane road with stoplights, making it a journey that can’t be achieved without being driven in the car.
I have spent hours longing to give my children the same type of childhood that I had. I have wondered what we have done raising them in suburbia. I have felt guilty that I have deprived them of some of the joys of childhood — running freely from one yard to the next, living in a world where it’s OK to climb a neighbor’s tree, spending hours wading in the creek.
But last week was Spring Break.
We started the week with no plans. But then I decided we should act like we were tourists just visiting all this place has to offer. We spent a day at the Arboretum, climbing the treehouses at the Children’s Garden and then playing Alice in Wonderland in the Maze Garden.
We visited Legoland Discovery Center, which is about 30 miles from our home, but a place we hadn’t yet visited because of the ticket price. It seemed expensive, but I realized we wouldn’t blink an eye at the cost if we were visiting here for the week.
We hit the indoor waterpark, and spent a day at the Children’s Museum. We had been there dozens of times, but now that the kids were a bit older, their eyes were even wider as they figured out how to make the biggest bubbles or construct a waterway or make cloth balls zoom through air tunnels.
These adventures are different from the ones I had as a kid. I would have been overwhelmed with excitement to have gone to one of those places in a year, not to mention everyday for a week.
I also realized something else that makes the experiences unique. Out of necessity, I spend a lot of time with my kids. Oh, they have play dates with other kids and cook up their own fun. But instead of sending them outside to play all day long, we tend to do a lot of things together as a family, or we meet up with another mom and her kids. I’m not sure who enjoys these days more — my kids, or me reliving my childhood a second time around.
We are close. I love spending these long days with my children. I especially love it when all three of them are out of school and we can all be together.
Going to museums and zoos and the arboretum is a normal part of my children’s lives. When we visit my sister’s farm or the small town where I grew up, they think it’s exciting to run free, without fences.
What was normal to me is a treat to them. And what would have been an adventure to me as a kid, is everyday life for them.
If our life now was like it was when I was a kid, I would probably long to give my children the kind of experiences they have now. I still wish I could give them some of what I had, but they are growing up in a different way. Not better. Not worse. Just different.