I was in the middle of a deadline when I heard it: “Bobby Bobby BOBSTER, eating a LOBSTER,” CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP. The tune was familiar — my son, Marlow, who invented it, sings it incessantly — but he was doing something else upstairs. Where is that coming from? I wondered, putting down my laptop to investigate. I opened the front door to see Marlow’s friend Teddy sitting on our front porch, swinging and singing and clapping.
When Marlow’s at karate, his friend Eliot also feels comfortable enough to wait on the swing. I often see Eliot before I hear him — he doesn’t walk down our driveway so much as he taekwondo-jump-dances along it at all hours of the day — sometimes as early as 7 in the morning.
Our neighborhood is full of kids, and in summertime, they take over.
Though I talk to colleagues throughout the day via phone and Zoom, most of my actual face time is spent with people 10 and under. I’m usually still working or distractedly trying to get dinner going when the kids start to appear, sometimes in clusters. I love it, and I’m even a little envious of the arrangement — because there is no arrangement.
I rarely see my friends anymore; months of texting results in one dinner out. Meanwhile, my kids don’t have phones or calendars, but their days are full of friends crisscrossing yards before breakfast and after dinner, companionship as simple as the question, “Can you play?”
I see my neighbors all the time, and some have become friends. I remember being a kid when all my best friends were within a few blocks. I’d walk around the neighborhood seeing who was home. Now my kids do that.
Marlow, 10, is old enough to walk to friends’ houses or to the village store about a mile away. My daughter, Sydney, 6, needs a chaperone even to places nearby. Not because she can’t find her way, but because black bears also wander our neighbors’ yards, and while she can demonstrate how to deal with one — backing away slowly — I still worry.
So when she asks if we can go to Tibby’s house, I put my work down and get ready to head out, because of bears but also because I know soon she’ll be walking without me. “Wear shoes,” I tell her, “on the right feet.” Off we go, crossing through brush, on the lookout. Knock knock. Tibby’s not home, but there’s the big rock she calls her throne. We remember the time she sat on it and waved her magic wand.
Our neighborhood is full of such landmarks that only we can see. There’s the huge pine tree neighbors Simone and Gaby once climbed as kids — now they’re in college. There’s the wooded cut-through where the red fox lives and where we strung up our wishes on a piece of twine at the start of the pandemic. There’s Natalie’s mud kitchen — we have one, too; all you need is mud, a bowl, a spoon, and glitter. There’s the stretch of pavement where I explained sex to my son, and he was so shocked, he tripped, tripping me, and we fell in a heap laughing.
Cut through the tangle of bittersweet vines to Eliot’s house, and you’ll see where his mom, Francie, hung a wok and griddle pan on some rope between trees for Eliot and his older sister, Lucy, to bang on as toddlers. Now they’re heading into the fifth grade and high school.
Sometimes I see Francie in the kitchen making dinner. I know I’m interrupting her, that she has things to do and kids to feed, but I knock on the door anyway.
“Hi, Francie,” I say when she answers. “Can you play?”
Brooke Hauser is an assistant arts editor at the Globe. Send comments to email@example.com. Tell your story. Email your 650-word essay on a relationship to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.