Solitaire in Company

Our children's insistence that anything is more fun in company can throw a new light on the amount of isolation we adults have learned to take for granted.

I don't think I've known any parents of young children who didn't look forward to the time when we were no longer constantly on call as players or watchers or mediators, when our children could pursue their interests independently. Having arrived at that time, more or less, I am struck by the power of the expectation all around us that children go it alone. The solitary leisure activities are right at hand. Some have been around for ages--reading, solitaire. I won't even mention TV. More recently our society seems to be capitalizing on the high value we place on independent operating. There are scores of new video and computer games designed to be played alone, and often to simulate group adventure for the solitary player. Even learning activities, which once required instruction can now be pursued alone, with the help of a video or computer.

It's been amazing to me to watch my almost ten year old in relationship to these activities. He doesn't much like to read, never chooses that as a free time activity. If I push, the way he likes it best is snuggling up with me, reading alternate pages to each other. He likes cards and has learned lots of solitaire games. He would choose to play these, however, along with another person. His favorite is a very challenging one which we both think together on, discussing the best moves and seeing possibilities that the other person has missed.

Video games are an intensely social activity for him. He and his friends work on them together, check each other’s progress over the phone when they are apart, discuss strategies for reaching the next level. When he took on the challenge of learning touch typing with a computer program this summer, I envisioned him going off and practicing independently each day. But he wanted me right there--to commiserate when the computer was blatantly unfair, to guess at his speed, to delight in blow-by-blow accounts of his progress.

Part of me wonders what's wrong with him. Why doesn't he just go off and do these things by himself, the way any normal person would? Why, for God's sake, does he always want company? And I have to admit that I worry sometimes about whether he can flourish in this society with its glorification of independent functioning. I envision what a hard time he might have with this near-total lack of interest in solitary pursuits.

Another part of me, however, wonders if he knows something the rest of us never learned, or forgot (or gave up) long ago: that being in contact with other people is more fun than being alone, regardless of what you are doing. Maybe that stage in our young children's lives, with their constant desire for our attention and participation in their world, is not one that we want them to grow out of entirely. If we can get out from under the constant barrage of demand, there's something very attractive about it.

Some of my nicest times recently have been snuggling up and reading books together. And, while I can still get involved in my own game of solitaire, it's much more fun to do it together. I even like hanging out while he practices typing. After all, we are a social species. The choice for companionship just keeps ringing true.