Living in a Kid-Free Neighborhood Makes Me Wonder What Might Have Been

It's a gloriously summer-feeling spring evening and the setting sun has filled the street with golden light. There are five -- no, six, seven? I can't keep count, they're moving too quickly -- little boys playing in the quiet suburban neighborhood. Basketballs fly back and forth, squirt guns are deployed, somebody has a double-bladed plastic lightsaber and is making that bszzzzew, bszzzzew sound. My 8-year-old runs by with a neighbor boy, my 6-year-old is giggling with his younger cousin. They're filled with so much electric joy, it's pouring off them in visible waves.

I'm sitting with the adults, watching this scene unfold. It's a suburban dream: kids playing, grownups chatting, everyone just a few steps from their own home. I'm thinking about our own neighborhood, and how it's nothing like this.

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It's my husband's brother who lives on this street. My brother-in-law and his wife have a 2-year-old son, and it's their neighborhood that's filled with children. School-age kids are everywhere, and families pushing strollers mosey up and down the well-kept sidewalks. A grade school is located nearby, nestled amongst loops of large new homes.

Every Christmas, cars line my brother-in-law's neighborhood to take in the lights. It's the sort of neighborhood that's serious about its Christmas lights, if you know what I mean.

They're just a couple miles away, but our street couldn't be more different. We live in a great area of town, but the downside of people loving it here is that they never leave. Nearly everyone in our loop has been here for decades. It was once filled with children too, then those children grew up and moved away.

Most of the folks who live near us are retired. The houses are older. The main activity during all hours of the day is an endless series of landscaping trucks trundling by, because people stopped doing their own yardwork years ago. They've also stopped putting up elaborate holiday lights, if they ever did in the first place. We occasionally see a kid or two with their parents, but they're on walks or bike rides from somewhere else.

It's a calm, settled sort of neighborhood. I can't imagine my kids just running out the front door to a chaotic bevy of built-in playmates. Or rather, I can imagine it, since I've seen it at my brother-in-law's house. But it's not likely to ever happen here.

When we bought our house, I hadn't given much thought to whether or not there were kids nearby. It was enough of a challenge finding something at the right price, near the schools we wanted, with the spacious yard we wanted. Having seen what things could have been like, it's hard not to wonder now if we should have prioritized buying a home near other families.

At the same time, I see the upsides to our situation. My boys, who are two and a half years apart, spend their days playing together. They do their fair share of squabbling as brothers do, but for the most part, they're the best of friends -- maybe because they don't have a lot of competition. And really, when I'm honest with myself, I know I probably wouldn't enjoy living in the midst of a nonstop neighborhood block party, nor would I want the pressure of the competitive hall-decking each December. It's a nice place to visit ... and even nicer to come home to our quiet, peaceful house.

Ultimately I know it's foolish to compare what we have to what other people have. Still, when it's your kids' welfare that you're thinking of, it's difficult not to, right? Even in my gratitude for our cozy home and our health and happiness, it's hard not to second-guess.

Is your neighborhood filled with kids? Do you think that's an important part of childhood?


Image via Linda Sharps

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