Something kind of strange is happening during this pandemic, at least in my neighborhood.
For the last several weeks, I’ve been noticing some really positive changes in my kids, in my neighborhood, and in my family. Our pace of life has changed tremendously, and in a way that is totally unprecedented. It’s like the whole world is on one giant time out.
I thought being grounded, so to speak, would make me crazy. I have always, for as long as I’ve had kids, been of the mindset that I needed to have a “plan” for the day. That I needed to get my kids up and out of the house, or we would all implode. I’ve been rushing from point A to point B with three small children in tow for the last few years. We were always late. I was hustling all the time. And I was hustling the kids along with me.
I was also serving as a one-woman entertainment center. I felt like it was my responsibility to keep my kids busy and entertained. I knew on some level that this wasn’t quite healthy, or right. I certainly knew that I myself wasn’t raised that way, and I had a really happy childhood. But I couldn’t seem to get out of my own way to change things.
And then the pandemic hit. There was nowhere to go. No parks to get to, no diaper bags to pack, no soccer practice. There were no playdates to arrange and no random farms to get to so my kids could pet sheep. And my kids don’t even like sheep!
Anyway, our days were full. The kids would wake up and ask right away “what are we doing today?” I felt like I needed to have an answer, as much for my own sanity as for theirs.
But now, something strange is happening. The kids aren’t asking me where we are going (I think they’ve pretty well caught on that we aren’t going anywhere right about now – they’re sharp like that). But they don’t seem upset about it. They don’t seem the least bit bothered that Sky Zone is not on the agenda. They seem – fine. They seem pretty relaxed, actually.
And my neighborhood right now is like a throwback to the 1980’s. Everyone is on bikes. Kids are playing catch with their dads in the street. My older son now rides his scooter around the block, with a freedom that I seldom allowed before. He is able to scoot around with other kids and then run home for a snack. He has been reading a ton, and not because he has to for school – he’s reading because he seems to have found that, when he has time to really get into a book, reading is a joy. I could not hope for better than that.
My toddler and preschooler have been playing in our backyard, making mud and getting soaked with our hose. They come in the house dirty. We go for walks ALL THE TIME. My son stops and looks at flowers and tells me we have to stand still so we can “listen to all the sounds.” We have nowhere to be.
We are lucky in a lot of ways. The kids have space to play. My husband and I can make our work shifts from home manageable, for the most part. We take turns working and being with the kids. Not everyone can do that. And in my neighborhood the houses are close enough together that I can talk easily to my next-door neighbors. One of them is starting a vegetable garden. Another is starting to paint some furniture. Everyone is home, all the time. So we see each other outside a lot.
We are all anxious to see how things are going to shape up with the pandemic. But we are also settling into a new routine around here, and it’s a routine that at the moment seems to have at least as many pros as cons.
For all that I’ve worried about what my kids are missing out on, I can also see what they are gaining. This is probably the most exercise that my 6-year-old has ever had. He now has the time for free play that I always hoped for but could never quite make happen. I watch him play deeply with his toys; see him come home tired and sweaty from a long time out on his scooter. I see that he feels independent, even though on the surface he is doing less, not more. In some of the most important ways he is doing more than ever before.
I’ve let some rules slide during the pandemic, for sanity sake. The kids have popsicles ALL THE TIME. We eat in the TV room more, sometimes on a big blanket on the floor for a “picnic.” I don’t care if they get filthy or wear pajamas all day. Who are we trying to impress anyway? It’s a pandemic for goodness sake!
My kids don’t seem scared, or traumatized, or worried. They seem unencumbered. I do worry about my 3-year-old not having the chance to play with kids the way he normally would, but I’m thankful that he has siblings and can see neighborhood kids out and about on their walks and bikes.
With everyone home, it’s so much easier to feel a sense of community, even with the restrictions. I never forgot that a neighborhood could feel like this – in fact, I’ve missed it acutely for years. I have had a sort of homesickness for the way I grew up, where I really felt like a part of my neighborhood. Growing up on Carolyn Drive was a part of my identity, then and now. I hope that growing up on “The Hill”, as our neighborhood is called, will feel like a part of my kids’ identity. That seems more possible now than ever before.
Isn’t it ironic that during a pandemic, even as we stay more apart, we can sometimes feel more together.
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