Family life

The importance of childhood friendships

Susan Goldberg reflects on her own childhood friendships — and hopes for that same sense of community for her sons.

1Patterson's reunion Susan (centre) with Mrs. Patterson (left) and Sheila (right). Photo: Susan Goldberg.

Thunder Bay, Ont. writer Susan Goldberg is a transplanted Torontonian and one of two mothers to two boys. Follow along as she shares her family’s experiences.

When my parents bought the house I was born in, in January 1971, they couldn’t have known that it came with an added bonus that was nowhere on the listing but which vastly increased the value of their home.

The bonus came in the form of the fact that our backyard dovetailed seamlessly into the backyard of another family on the opposite side of the block. The Pattersons had three children, the youngest of whom was a girl exactly my age. Sheila Patterson and I spent vast swaths of our childhood skipping back and forth across our collective enormous backyard, running in and out of one another’s houses via the back doors (it took me a very long time to understand that most people used their front door), eating lunch and snacks wherever we happened to end up hungry, and playing endless games of “House” in her basement. We had a “bug club,” presided over by Sheila’s older sister. Once, I swallowed a quarter at Sheila’s house and her dad turned me upside down and tried to shake it out of me. I had my first sleepover there — except that I couldn’t sleep and Mr. Patterson finally carried me, wrapped in a blanket, across the backyard to where my father stood waiting, and handed me over so I could sleep in my own bed. When my parents put in a pool (and with it, finally, a fence), we vaulted over that fence like it was nothing and had pool parties.

I’ve been thinking about the Pattersons lately as I watch my own kids run up the sidewalk and down the back alley with the boy and the girl who live three doors away. They’ve been doing this for years, easily able to enjoy each other’s company with no streets to cross, even though they’re now old enough to cross them. On Saturday, the four of them played nonstop for close to seven hours: they played with the tadpoles (yes, we still have them and they’re now nearly frogs). They battled with light sabers over who would rule the galaxy. They pushed together two soccer tents and pretended to be trapped animals with a mean guard keeper (a.k.a. Rowan). They ate Freezies and plates of fruits and vegetables at our house and peanut butter jam sandwiches and I don’t know what else over there. They made modelling clay creations. They made a secret club with secret club codenames and a secret language, which Rowan wrote out in a notebook. “Mom,” he said to me, “if you’re reading this notebook and you don’t understand anything, don’t try to understand it. Because it’s secret.”

While they did all this, Rachel and I puttered around the house, doing our own stuff, gardening, reading, chatting with neighbours and, of course, regularly feeding and hydrating the children who wandered through the property. It was a divine way to spend a lazy, humid, summer afternoon, for all parties involved.


When we bought the house, we had no idea that the family down the street would bring so much value to our lives — just as my parents had no idea, back in January of 1971, how much the Pattersons would add to theirs. (For the record, we’re all still friends — Sheila and I and our families met up at her parent’s place a couple of years ago and I peeked over the (now much higher) fence to have a look at my once-enormous backyard, which now seems so much smaller.) When we look at houses, we look for things like bathrooms and granite countertops, but maybe we also need to look outside the house to see who lives on the street or down the back lane — because a family with kids your own kids’ age? That’s pretty priceless.

This article was originally published on Aug 08, 2013

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