I heard a lot about parallel play when my kids were infants and toddlers. Parallel play is a notion from developmental psychology, describing children playing side by side but without interacting. Different than playing alone (that is solitary play) but not necessarily playing with each other (that is group play). Experts say that parallel play is something commonly experienced by kids around ages 2 and 3. Presumably then they move on to group play, or other interactive experiences.
I found myself thinking about parallel play the other weekend. It was a Saturday. My son, age 7 and then some, was reading on the couch. My daughter, age 4, was engaged in some imaginary escapade of one sort or another that involved running from room to room to get accessories or equipment, setting up various materials in some subjectively comprehensible order, occasionally stopping to write notes and place them in small envelopes, and intermittently narrating the entire thing. My husband, age 30 something, was upstairs folding laundry and listening to sports on internet radio. I, age 30 somethingelse, was in the kitchen, simultaneously making marmalade and kombucha.
We were one happy family that afternoon. I think the happiness came not just from our individual activities, which, admittedly, are among our respective favorites (OK - maybe not the laundry folding). Doing these activities side-by-side with each other made the day complete and really added to the level of happiness we each experienced.
Perhaps because I learned about parallel play as a developmental concept, one that is superseded by another developmental concept, I never thought about its continued importance in my own life and in the lives of my kids. Just because we CAN play with each other doesn't mean we always want or need to. I guess that one can extrapolate from that and fine a truism to apply across the board, evolution can be cumulative without being hierarchical.
I decided that day that parallel play is highly underrated as one of the best ways to have fun as a family, even though none of us are toddlers anymore.