I grew up in a small neighborhood. It didn’t have sidewalks, streetlights or fire hydrants. What it did have was tons of kids my age. There were seven girls within a year or two of each other, and I cannot imagine my childhood without my neighborhood friends.
Because of the lack of sidewalks and immensely low level of traffic, we would walk around in the middle of the street. Of course, we became more visible when we rode our bikes or Razor scooters, and we rode those often. The bike was our staple of transportation because it was faster than walking and much more fun. Nights in the summer were spent taking bike rides. I don’t know where we went because there really weren’t that many places to go in our tiny, isolated subdivision, but I can still remember showing up at friends’ houses with my bike and us riding together until 8 or 8:30 p.m.
I remember having secret forts, with locations ranging from a horribly unstable treehouse to a 5-foot-deep hole dug into a field. I remember my friends and I set up a club called MASAC – the first letter of our first names in order of age – on our compost pile. We didn’t seem to mind that all of our playtime there involved sinking into piles of decomposing leaves crawling with spiders. I remember throwing rocks into the creek for hours. I remember walking my friend, Mary, home once and almost getting hit by a golf cart. I remember holding our breath when we walked through locust corral, and I remember Little Kid Island.
I remember it all so well that it hurts.
Eventually, my group of neighborhood friends split up. There was no definitive point, just a slow abandonment of Barbie dolls and an increase in 9-year-old girl drama. People’s parents not getting along, friends from school and sports and a bridge being built over the creek where we would play for hours took their toll on us. No amount of funny, homemade videos could hold us together once school, boyfriends and other things came into the picture.
Sure, I still talk to my old neighborhood friends. One girl was on the speech team with me; another girl gave me the idea for this column, and one has remained my best friend throughout the years. Even if we all got together again and ignored our differences and years-old fights, it wouldn’t be the same. I’m not 11 anymore. I wouldn’t ride my bike for miles to go to 7-Eleven when I could just drive there. And I’m not about to go play with dead leaves and spiders.
To me, the closer I get to college, the sadder thinking about my childhood becomes. I can never go back to being that young, that innocent, that happy, and that scares me. Growing up is a terrifying thing because being a child is all I’ve ever known. I was riding my bike so fast that I didn’t stop to look around at how wonderful life was. If I could go back, I would tell my childhood self to write everything down and try to remember how fun and stress-free life was so that I could read it today and be that exuberant again.
I would also tell my childhood self to stop playing on the compost pile.
• Courtney Phelan is a senior at Geneva High School. She is an outgoing and energetic young writer who likes to swim, read and participate in general teenage activities. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.