These first weeks of socially distancing ourselves from a world that we used to rub shoulders with have been primarily focused on adapting to this sudden disruption. Can I do my job from home? Do I still have a job? Do I need to cancel that upcoming trip? What do we do with the kids? How do we pay for things with less income? How much meat can we shove into our freezer?
Until now most of us have been making decisions from a short-term mindset. In part this was because we were trying to survive those first few days, and in part it was because we didn’t have a clear sense of how long this would last. In mid-March many of us thought, or at least hoped, that we were talking about a time frame of weeks. But now that we are in mid-April the shadow of social distancing is lengthening, and how we think about our strategies for this pandemic should be stretching to meet the reality of what we all face.
My family lives in Charlottesville and we accidentally stumbled into ‘Quaranteaming’ on day one. We haven’t lived in our neighborhood for very long but our next door neighbors have two daughters that are close in age to our girls and so in the nine months we have been living here the girls have become friends. And while we weren’t particularly close to the parents of those girls, we had shared some meals and some conversations on the sidewalk as the girls played.
But on Friday the 13th of March we invited their family over for dinner. The schools that our girls attended had just cancelled classes for the next 3 weeks, the NBA had shut the season down, and it felt like the entire country had slammed on the brakes and come to a screeching halt. We sat around the table that night and processed what was happening together as our girls played in the other room.
By the end of the evening we had come to an agreement; we would socially distance ourselves from the world together. We would stay in our respective homes but we would coordinate our daily lives and live by the same rules.
We set up a school schedule for the girls that included a half hour ‘recess’ in the morning where the girls could play together. We aligned our lunch breaks and the end time of the school day as well. Our girls attend different schools with different dates for their spring breaks, but since school timelines were more flexible we modified the schedules so they lined up. And we planned for regular meals together as families.
We also clarified our social distancing rules so that everyone was on the same page. We would only spend physically proximate time among our two families; we would go out only for exercise or food-shopping; we would prepare all our meals at home and not do take-out or delivery (instead we bought gift cards to local restaurants to help support their business), and we would be vigilant about wiping down mail, mailboxes, groceries, doorbells, door knobs, light switches, etc.
In the five weeks that have followed I can say without hesitation that it has been incredibly helpful to navigate this time together. They have taken our kids on bike rides and we have taken their kids on Pokemon Go adventures. On Easter Sunday the girls did an Easter Egg Hunt together. In the evening or on the weekends there is rarely a time when at least 2 or 3 of the girls aren’t playing and getting into some kind of trouble. And shared meals with other adults where we can talk and laugh and share a bit of life are a welcome respite for Minhee and I.
Last night dinner was at our place (I made chili). This morning, even as I am writing this, the doorbell rang and they dropped off spam & egg breakfast sandwiches on King’s Hawaiian Bread (amazing).
And right now 3 of the girls are building a butterfly garden together (I have no idea what that means).
What has made this work well for us boils down to three things I think… The first is proximity because this works best with people that live very close to you. The second is the shared rulebook that we are following because this only works if you trust each other to all play by and follow the same rules. The third is the nearness in age of the four girls, which makes their play together organic and natural.
Because I have seen how healthy and beneficial this has been for our family, I am writing this in an effort to encourage you to consider whether Quaranteaming might be a good option for you. Your circumstances might look very different from ours and I know that there are some who, for various reasons, cannot consider this at all. But for those who are able, I encourage you to entertain the idea of finding another person/s, or couple, or family that you might enter into a kind of ‘closed-circuit community’ with during this time.
The news cycle has lots of stories about when the country will reopen and when we will be back on the path toward normalcy, but the reality is that even when stores start to open and some people start going back to work, until there is a vaccine this world is going to be a very different and very socially distanced place. We aren’t talking about a few more weeks of this, but likely many months or more of a socially distanced future. And given how much we need human contact and community, it seems only wise to begin figuring out how we provide that for ourselves in a safe but meaningful way. We’ve prepared the resources for our stomachs and our bathroom visits, now it’s time to appropriately prepare for our minds and souls.
A few nights ago the 4 girls were playing together outside and we overheard them imagining a game together. In the game they all had contracted coronavirus and they had all died. At first we were startled and saddened as we realized just how deeply they were internalizing the threat of this pandemic, even to the point that they were imagining themselves dying from it.
But as we parents discussed what had happened we realized that this is likely part of a healthy process for them. Play therapy is often a way for kids to communicate and process trauma and we were glad that our girls had friends to enter into this with, and play with, and process with. And I was grateful that Minhee and I had adults to process our thoughts and fears with too.
Community is such a profound part of our humanity and my hope and prayer is not only that you are healthy, but also that you are not alone.
Stay safe all.