We have lived in our current residence for nine months now, and this afternoon, for the first time, I actually met our neighbors. Now don’t get me wrong- I haven’t been actively avoiding them. There are no bad vibes between us. They have done nothing to cause us any concern. We’ve just never met. Sure, I’ve waved as I’ve ushered my kids in and out of the car, but until this afternoon, I’d never introduced myself. Then, in an ironic turn of events, social distancing made me meet my neighbors.
In the BC (Before Coronavirus) age, we were not what you would consider a family of homebodies. We went out a lot. Twice a day most days, in fact. Our mornings were filled with library storytimes, play dates, and visits to the museum. Our afternoons were occupied with trips to the mall (and the mall playground) and adventures in any of our many local parks.
I liked a filled schedule; I enjoyed knowing that the days would pass swiftly as we moved from one activity to the next. We were rarely at home unless it was nearly time to eat a meal.
Even on rainy days, we were out twice a day. Snow was the only thing that kept us inside. Until the coronavirus struck, that is.
In what felt like just a twenty-four hour period (though it was probably closer to seventy-two), our entire world changed. It practically stopped. Suddenly, we had nowhere to go.
The museum and library shut their doors. Playdates were cancelled in an effort to “flatten the curve.” Playgrounds became taboo. For the first time in my life as a mother, my schedule was empty. There was nowhere to go, nothing to do. I felt lost.
After a few days, we settled into a “new normal.” Daily walks to get outside and away from the house, but mostly time spent inside and in our backyard.
Then today happened.
As we were walking around our neighborhood, my son saw some other children riding bikes. He began begging to ride his own tricycle when we got home. Since I knew that we’d have some time before I needed to prepare dinner, I agreed. We got home, unloaded the stroller, and went inside to retrieve my son’s trike and a ball for my daughter. By the time we returned to our driveway, our neighbor’s five children and their grandfather were in their front yard, playing. The grandfather nodded in greeting, and I turned my attention to my children.
Just ten minutes later, my two children were playing with our neighbor’s five. Not quite together (social distancing, you know), but alongside one another. They rode their tricycles, chased after their balls. Their laughter joined and intermingled in the air, and as I listened, I couldn’t always tell whose laughter belonged to who. There was just so much joy in the air, you couldn’t help but smile. And wish that different circumstances had brought this moment about.
My children have never played with the neighbors. On occasion, my son has yelled a happy “hello” to the kids from our deck to theirs, but that has always been the extent of their interaction. We’ve always had our own friends, our own plans, and frankly, I much preferred getting away from the house for an hour or so over staying home. But this virus, and the distance we’ve adopted in our efforts to do our part, have changed all that. Our friends are quarantined too. Our plans have all been cancelled, and now there is nowhere for us to go. Besides our own yard of course.
I wish it had been under different circumstances that we finally met our neighbors, but if I’m going to be honest, it might have never happened otherwise. We’ve lived here for nine months after all, and before today, our relationship had never extended beyond a nod and a wave. In a time when we are all being forced to slow down and stay home, we have an incredible opportunity to learn more about our immediate neighborhoods.
My hope is that as time moves forward, and COVID-19 becomes just a bad memory, the relationships that are started now continue.
For now, our children must be content playing side by side, but I hope that one day they’ll be able to do more than that. I hope that we’ll remember these quiet days at home, and the pleasure that we found here, together. I hope that these friendships survive the days to come, when everything reopens, schedules are filled again, and life goes back to what we probably never stop considering our true normal. But in the meantime, I am grateful that social distancing made me meet my neighbors.